Price's public works staff evaluates policy toward irrigation water users
|Price is changing its policy toward water users regarding irrigation water delivery. Under the new policy, irrigation water users are expected to take a more active role. While canal gates will be opened and closed by the city, users are responsible for the flow from the gate head to their turn outs. This work has been done previously by a watermaster. The position was previously a full time position, costing city residents $23,000 a year. Users on the system receive water for 22.5 weeks each year.|
A proposed change in the irrigation water management program in Price met questions from councilmembers last week. The council reviewed the changes in a regularly scheduled meeting last Tuesday, April 12.
The city operates four ditch associations: Price Water Company, Price River Water Users Association, Pioneer Ditch No. 1 and Pioneer Ditch No. 2. There are 25 ditches in the system and approximately 157 water users in the system.
"It's become apparent that the city can't afford the program that it's been providing, and I speak of a $23,000 budget that's necessary to dedicate a full time city employee to[manage water]," said Gary Sonntag.
In previous years, the city has had a full time employee who has managed the opening and closing of ditches and the delivery of water to the city's users.
"As each water user's turn comes about they will be responsible for going and getting the water, following the water from the canal, down the ditch, to their water turn out point," states the new policy.
The policy further explains that the city will unlock, open and close gates during the regular work week, Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Councilmember Jeanne McEvoy asked whether the city would be able to deliver the necessary water in those hours and questioned if those hours would be practical for all users, some of whom work regular hours.
"The ditch will be opened during normal working hours and run sufficiently that everybody on the ditch has an opportunity to receive their water and then shut off during normal business hours. So it might run for 24 hours, or it might run for 30 hours, depending which ditch their on," explained mayor Joe Piccolo.
McEvoy also asked if it was unreasonable for the city to ask users, many of whom may be seniors with less-sure footing.
"Our perception is that the water user has a responsibility to search out the water in the ditch. If he needs to go all the way to the canal, that's what he may have to do. The water user is not going to have to open and shut the gate; the city will be doing that and will be providing water into the ditch. The user will need to go find the water. Hopefully it's right there. It could be next door. It could be up the street a block. If worse came to worse, they may have to go all the way to the canal to find it. If there's a blockage that person may have to eliminate the blockage," said Sonntag.
"Traditionally most of the irrigators I've talked to have go after their own water to some degree to find where it's at," said the mayor.
As the public works department was developing the policy, they evaluated the flows in each of the ditches. They looked at the amounts of water to be delivered to each user and the amount of time that would be required to deliver each allotment.
"We came up with a schedule where the ditches could be opened and closed throughout the week. A majority of the users don't have enough water to allow them to take water for 24 hours. There are some users that have so many acre-feet of water that it allows them to take it for more several days," said Sonntag.
He explained that the new policy has two purposes. First, it equalizes the water shares. Shares are equalized, and each user received the allotment paid for. Second, it provides the service of delivery at a lower cost to the city.
Sonntag also indicated that similar policies are already in effect in other communities in the area, and that this is not a new idea.
The turn fee was raised to $35 this year. This cost is expected to cover the wages of an employee to open and shut the gates. Sonntag explained that that fee may be adjusted in future years as the department monitors hours spent by city employees dealing with irrigation.
"You've got 157 people that were getting a $23,000 benefit from the rest of the taxpayers of Price City. I'm a fan of user fees, so if we want to [employ a full time watermaster], let's charge each one of the users the $150 or so it's going to cost a year to pay that salary." said Councilmember Richard Tatton.
The council passed the motion by Tatton that the policy be accepted with the addition of a watermaster to resolve disputes.
A public meeting regarding irrigation was scheduled for last night, April 18, at 6 p.m. Results of that meeting were unavailable at press time.