Water flow, control pose complex issue
Walking by the Price River, Carbon County residents may wonder what all the talk of a drought is about.
In the same vein, local residents who stand on the dam at Scofield Reservoir would see water pouring out into the river.
The water in both situations seems to be running freely down the river toward the Green and eventually the Colorado.
If Carbon County is in the middle of one of the worst droughts in years, how can the river be so full? Why isn't the water being kept in the reservoir for later use?
The answer to the questions is very complicated. It is not simply a matter of one person or one group of citizens controlling what goes on, but a number of entities with various agendas to meet in connection with the water supply.
Sometimes when people see the water rushing down the river, they wonder what these various agencies are thinking. Because the Price River Water Improvement District is the largest culinary consumer of water in the county some blame them for what appears to be waste.
"What people need to remember is that much of the water they see coming down the river right now is from the White River drainage where the snow pack is melting and there is no dam to stop the flow," explains Phil Palmer, District Manager for PRWID. "Also remember PRWID is not responsible for how much water is being released from the dam at any given time either."
Most citizens probably think one agency or another is responsible for the dam and the reservoir, but there are multiple groups of people that have a hand in what happens with the way the dam is operated and with the water in Scofield.
The dam is owned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, a department of the federal government. The reservoir is operated by the Carbon Water Conservancy District. The conservancy district is the group that has been fighting Sanpete County for years on the potential diversion of water from the Carbon side of the mountain.
Next is the Carbon Water Users Association. The association is the group that actually determines the flow from the dam. The panel includes the organizations of the people who actually own shares of water stored behind the dam in Scofield Reservoir.
"The people who own the water call up the water users and ask them to release the water they need," explains Phil Palmer, Price River Water Improvement District representative.
"The only control PRWID has to how much water comes out of the dam is when we ask for our water to be released for use," adds Palmer.
The district owns 3,000 acre feet of water in the reservoir that PRWID can have released.
One acre foot of water is the same as one acre of ground covered by one foot of water or about 325,000 gallons.
To many Carbon County residents, 3,000 acre feet may sound like a lot of water. But it is less than one-tenth of the storage in Scofield Reservoir.
Owning is a rather strong term for indicating what PRWID or any other water "owner" has.
"All water is really owned by the state," explains Palmer. "We just get to use it."
PRWID also leases water for the district's winter operations.
"The water we lease from Utah Power & Light during the winter saves on our water in the reservoir so it can be used during the summer," points out the district representative.
Palmer projects that over the next six months PRWID will use about 1,500 acre feet of water to supply it's customers. This means not only it's direct customers but also to other small water companies that it supplies within the county.
Economic growth is one of the main issues that most Carbon County residents are concerned about. There are a lot of factors that contribute or take away from growth and one of the most important is water. If an industry wants to move into the area the water district that provides water to that industry must have enough to do so. For some industries that is a great deal for others it is not.
The fact is that any growth in the area is tied to the amount of water available. Even home hookups require that a certain amount of water is available before requests can be granted.
"We have to have a share of water for every home that wants to hook onto our system," states Palmer. "Without those we cannot allow a hookup."
All a share guarantees is that as long as the water is there the person or organizations that owns it can use it.
Palmer points out that most homes do not use a full share of water in a year. That means that there is a little water left over from each share which makes for kind of an insurance policy.
PRWID was created in 1961 to help resolve water connection and delivery problems in the county.
Up until that time, the Price system provided water for a large portion of the county. But the lines and system were tied to Price city.
And because of existing priorities, Price city came first, which tended to restrict growth in the county.
Many other smaller water systems also existed in the local area, many of which have become part of PRWID or are supplied by water from the district.
Even though the water improvement district was created by the county, the public entity is considered part of state government, based on Utah statute.
In addition to PRWID, there are currently two other major culinary systems operating in the Carbon County area.
One of the two major public entities is the Helper municipal water delivery system.
The Helper culinary delivery system is supplied with water from Fish Creek Spring and Colton Spring.
The second major entity is the Price city culinary water delivery system, which uses the Colton wells.
The city's system has a treatment plant located next to PRWID's facility in Price Canyon.
"One of things that has helped over the years is that we have a water exchange agreement with Price water and we help each other out," indicates Palmer. "Overall, it helps everyone in the county."
With the pending drought on the minds of all Carbon County residents and every citizen in Utah, however, water use is a big issue. But that isn't all there is to it.
"Water demands and policies are changing everywhere," points out Palmer. "First of all, our customers are demanding better service. They want cleaner water, better supplies and certainly lower costs."
Utahns presently have access to the cheapest water in the western United States. In fact, Utah ranks among the lowest six in price in the whole country.
"The other thing is that water policies are changing all over the place," states Palmer. "For instance, not long ago new restrictions on how much arsenic could occur in water according to federal standards was adjusted downward. That meant many water systems had to install special systems to handle that water."
"Because of that, the cost of the water went up dramatically, which increased bills to customers. Thankfully we didn't have any kind of problem with that, so we didn't need those systems. But as things change, water will cost more," explains the PRWID representative.
As for implementing restrictions, Palmer finds that, like many other water administrators in the county and across the state, imposing limitations and specific schedules do not work very well.
"I'm all for water conservation," indicates the PRWID representative. "We should all be conserving water all of the time. We should get in the habit so in years like this it is easier."
In many experts' estimation, based on past experience, when water usage is restricted by an entity, the public actually consumes more water. Residents have a tendency to overuse water when specific times are designated and restrictions are implemented.
"I just don't see a need for restrictions - just conservation," concludes the Price River Water Improvement District representative.