State water engineer discusses basin appropriation problems
|Snow turns into water as the sun beats down on it in upper Gordon Creek, which is part of the Upper Colorado River drainage basin. Water appropriation problems plague much of the West including Utah.|
A meeting to discuss current water rights issues of the Upper Colorado River Basin occurred at the PRWID office on April 20.
Four meetings were scheduled to discuss the water rights issues in Price, Moab, Vernal and Loa.
Jerry Olds, the state engineer, discussed some improvements that needed to be made to the appropriation and distribution of water coming from the Colorado River Basin to Utah.
Olds discussed the current management guidelines and applications for water rights in Utah.
In the 1800s, the principal was established that those who made beneficial use of water first would be allowed to continue use with preference over others who came later. This was later sanctioned and became the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which means that those with the earliest priority dates that have continuously used the water have preference over those with later priority dates.
Rights for water use filed over 100 years ago can still be claimed according to statute by filing a water users claim to the State Engineer. Olds contends that if they haven't developed a beneficial use for the water in this amount of time without a diligent effort, the state needs to skip over them and let a more recent application try.
Utah's entitlement to Upper Colorado River Basin water is 23 percent, which is just about 1.4 million acrefeet a year. Current appropriation of water is agriculture and stock 591.4 thousand acrefeet, municipal and domestic 25.3 thousand acrefeet, power and industrial 44.6 thousand acrefeet, exports and imports 206.9 thousand acrefeet, reservoir evaporation 19.3 thousand acrefeet, and evaporation mainstream 120 thousand acre feet. This is just over one million acre feet that is actually being depleted, leaving a considerable 360,000 acre feet unused that Utah users are entitled to.
Over 1400 letters to unapproved applications from over 50 years ago were sent out to see if they still had interest in gaining water rights. Only 55 percent responded back to the letters, and three out of four of them said they still were interested. The 45 percent that did not respond are thought to either have moved or are deceased. Further attempts at contact are being done.
Olds says, however, that water rights are only over appropriated on paper, and that the 360,000 acre feet is still being unused. He said that there is no chance of having the water rights taken away, in other words in a use it or lose it scenario, but said that it can be used in a beneficial way by someone.
Olds believes that the current policy is outdated and wanted to open a public dialog on the matter. He said he wants to know where the departmetn should go on the matter, and if they should skip over the applications that are over 50 years old that are undeveloped and then give newer applicants a try at developing a beneficial use for the water.
A comment period of 60 days is being given for anyone who has an opinion on the matter. Further meetings on the matter will be held, but no dates are set for these as of yet.
"Our problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them," said Olds in quoting Albert Einstein to end the meeting.