Dry winter conditions coupled with high demand have caused East Carbon officials to seek immediate action concerning the area's water supply. The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to conduct an expedited joint meeting with Sunnyside to discuss water issues after a bleak presentation by local water officials.
According to East Carbon maintenance employees Bert Krauss and Tracy Robinson, the city's reservoir is down 117 inches or about nine feet based on measurements recently taken from the lake's spillway. Last year at this time, the spillway was down approximately 68 inches.
"We aren't looking very good for next year based on these measurements," said Robinson. "That is unless we get a lot of snow. We had two feet of snow at Grassy Trail last year at this time and right now, it's like a dust bowl."
Further reports from the pair showed that annual snowfall is down 16.5 inches from October to December compared to numbers recorded in 2010. Additionally, snowpack at the reservoir has dwindled from 56 inches just two years ago to three inches currently.
Using both measurements and photos, the city employees demonstrated that the reservoir's lower left hand fork flume is bringing in about 80 gallons per minute of water to the mountain lake. Grassy Trail's upper flume is currently dry, a situation that is ominous for several reasons.
"Our problem here is that we have no previous pictures of the upper flume," explained Robinson. "We don't know if it goes dry every year or not, but either way it's a cause for concern."
The reservoir's right hand flume is delivering around 120 gallons per minute to the Grassy Trail Reservoir and is currently the lake's major source of replenishment.
"What we are really here for tonight is to discuss the dire need we have to develop the city's second diversion which is producing 100 GPM right now and does so all year around," said Robinson.
According to Krauss, this water is being lost two miles downstream as the water is absorbed by arid Castle Country soil.
East Carbon officials have already applied to the Permanent Community Impact Board for funding needed to develop the water source and move the water into Grassy Trail or directly into the city's water treatment system.
The project was rejected by the board in late 2011, when Sunnyside officials removed the city from the project's application due to a lack of communication between the two cities. Both towns have justified their actions involving the first application which was re-submitted following a joint council session. This delay amounts to millions of lost gallons of water.
"Whether the mayor is here or not, I am going to the CIB in January," said council member and mayor pro tem David Maggio. "We have had other delays, and this project should already be underway."
If the second diversion was properly developed, as outlined in the city's application to the CIB, as much as 4 million gallons a month would not have to come from Grassy Trail's reserves, reported Krauss and Robinson.
"I'm going to tell you right now that one of you needs to make yourself available for this CIB session," said Maggio. "I don't get on a plane without a pilot and I'm not going to this CIB meeting without a certified water treatment official and this information. This is the second most arid state in the nation and we need to be able to explain the reality of what this water means to us. I mean we are talking about increasing our yearly water intake by one third."
While the city has been planning for some time to develop additional water, Maggio questioned the officials about the immediacy of the city's water problems.
"We are okay for water right now," said Krauss. "In a couple of months, who knows. It depends on what type of moisture we see up there."
According to Maggio, if some precipitation is not seen, the city would have to examine the possibility of conservation measures, including curtailing sales to the Sunnyside Cogeneration power plant.
"You have to understand, fellas, the residents stand at the top of the priority list as far as water goes, that power plant is way down the line as far as I'm concerned. They also have other available water that they don't care to use because it costs them more money," said Maggio.
It is East Carbon's contention that the power plant is sold a large volume of culinary water by Sunnyside City every month. While Sunnyside Cogeneration does own 10 percent of the Grassy Trail Reservoir, East Carbon officials have stated that the facility is simply taking too much drinking water.
Figures provided by the maintenance report state that the plant currently takes in around 150 GPM. They also stated that total water use in East Carbon is 5 million gallons per month, in Sunnyside that number climbs to 7 million gallons.
"For those of you who don't know, Sunnyside Cogeneration has been using a whole lot of culinary water and they buy it from Sunnyside," explained Maggio. "They have access to Kaiser water. However, that would require reverse osmosis in order to remove the iron. They can also use the spring, which they have not historically done. Currently the state is asking that the city decide that that water will revert back to the city or whether the power plant will retain usage. It's a sure up agreement, meaning that if you haven't used the water, then you don't get it. And believe me, I know where our mayor stands on this decision."