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PRWID Board, Helper Officials Resolve Water Payment Dispute

Sun Advocate reporter

Helper's flouridation plant at the PRWID water treatment facility in Price Canyon is the possible site of an interconnection between the two entities' water systems. An agreement between Helper and PRWID may be similar to the current agreement between Price and PRWID, allowing an exchange of water between entities.

Helper officials and the Price River Water Improvement District advisory board have reached an agreement regarding an outstanding payment for water the city purchased from PRWID in 2004.

In previous negotiations, Helper and PRWID had agreed that the city owed the district approximately $18,000 for the water. The payment stemmed from the fact that the district had billed the city at a lower rate than allowed by PRWID policies and contracts.

The negotiated balance due had been considerably higher. But because PRWID was supplementing Helper's supply at the time, rather than providing all of the town's water, the city was able to negotiate a lower figure.

At a PRWID board meeting on Jan. 16, the board offered a proposal to Helper officials to allow the city to resolve the outstanding balance.

The agreement specifies that, for five years, the city will allow PRWID to utilize 200 water shares owned by Helper in Scofield Reservoir.

Water shares currently sell for $12 to $13, explained PRWID manager Phil Palmer in the mid-January board meeting.

The negotiated agreement would allow Helper to get an effective rate of approximately $18 per share during the duration of the agreement.

Based on current conditions, Helper does not own the infrastructure to take water out of the river, process it and get it into the city's distribution system. The only way the city can utilize its Scofield shares is to pass the water through PRWID's processing plant north of the city.

To get the water back from PRWID, Helper can use a connection between a city storage tank and a district tank located west of the city. At that point, water can be metered and placed into the city's distribution system.

The connection between the two tanks allowed the city to purchase the water from PRWID in 2004.

One advantage of the agreement which was pointed out at a Feb. 1 council meeting is that it helps secure the city's interest in its Scofield water shares.

One of the requirements for water share owners is to show beneficial use of its shares. If a share owners fail to show beneficial use, another potential user can challenge those shares.

Entities which fail to show beneficial use stand in jeopardy of losing those shares.

PRWID employee Beau Fausett opens a fire hydrant near the Airport Road to test for proper water flow and pressure. Before additional developments proposed in the area can be approved, tests on hydrants are required to ensure that firefighting crews will have sufficient water to protect the new construction projects.

However, cities and other water utility companies are seldom if ever challenged and most water share disputes occur between private entities.

Former Helper mayor Joe Bonacci said that, during his administration, one such effort had been started in Sanpete County. The challenge never reached the point of decision, but it demonstrated the fact that neighboring water users and downstream users may one day challenge underutilized water shares in Scofield.

The potential for the challenges extended down the Price, Green and Colorado rivers - which supply water to a significant portion of the southwestern United States.

Further, Helper can settle a debt claimed by PRWID turning to a resource which is not being used currently and without impacting the city's budget.

"It sounds to me we have a more favorable deal," noted Councilmember Dean Armstrong at Helper city's Feb. 1 public meeting.

However, one concern raised by the Helper council was that the city would be committing its Scofield shares and may need to utilize the water at a later date.

Councilmembers John Jones and Bob Farrell, who attended the water improvement district meeting two weeks earlier, noted that the PRWID board had approved a clause which allowed Helper first rights to the shares in question.

However, the council was unclear whether the clause had meant that the city would be able to take the shares back or lease the water from the district.

"You don't lease your own water," pointed out Mayor Mike Dalpiaz in opposition to Helper having to pay PRWID for the city's shares.

However, Jones pointed out that the purchase price of those shares would likely be far lower than the estimated value of those shares under the agreement and leasing its own water would still be a better deal than paying off the full amount requested by PRWID.

The Helper council suggested that a provision be added to the contract which would allow the city to suspend the agreement at any time and extend the agreement for the length of time it is suspended.

The amended proposal was approved by the Helper City Council by a 3-2 vote.

Councilmembers Kirk Armstrong and Chuck Buchanan voted against approving the agreement.

PRWID agreed to the terms of the amended contract at a Feb. 6 board meeting with little discussion beyond a report from staff and the water improvement district's legal representative regarding the previous week's council meeting in Helper.

However, the question still remained regarding how to address future water purchases.

The water district board agreed to establish a committee comprised of representatives from PRWID, Helper, Price and Wellington regarding the rate.

Specifically, the committee will be charged with the task of recommending a rate for purchases by users who do not have an existing water service contract with the district and setting the terms for that rate.

The board specified that the fee for the provision of culinary supplies recommended by the committee cannot be lower than the rate set in Wellington's wholesale water agreement with PRWID

Currently, Price has an exchange agreement in which the district and the city can supplement each other's water supply.

As long as Price is able to supply the bulk of the city's water, the rate recommended by the subcommittee will not apply to the city.

Wellington receives all of its culinary water from PRWID and will not be affected by the recommended rate structure.

Helper remains the most likely city to be affected by the rate.

However, that would be only at times when the city's own water sources are diminished as they were in 2004, when the city purchased water from PRWID.

However, that situation may not occur because of a proposal to interconnect the Helper and improvement district systems at a location prior to the city's fluoridation facility and PRWID's processing facility.

"I know that you don't want our water after we put our chlorine and so forth in it" commented Jones. "But I also understand that if there was an emergency in that canyon up there - diesel in the water or something like that - our water may be what it takes to get you guys to pull over."

The Helper councilmember pointed out that the city's water generally has less sediment in it than the river during spring runoff and the district may be able to benefit from clearer water at that time.

The Helper councilmember suggested that the city and PRWID draft a water exchange agreement similar to the contract the district has with Price.

Such an agreement would allow the city and the improvement district to exchange supplies and provide a means for Helper to avoid having to find the funds to cover the costs associated with receiving water from the PRWID system.

Jones noted that it may be possible to obtain a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or a similar agency to cover the costs of installing the exchange valves.

The members of the water improvement district board directed the PRWID staff to investigate the matter and report back with an estimate of how much the installation of an exchange point would cost.

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