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Actual water may be secondary in getting systems installed

Sun Advocate community editor

Pressurized irrigation is becoming more common in Carbon County agriculture. Could it soon be coming to everyones lawns too?

It seems that a lot of people would like to have a secondary water system to water their lawns and gardens, but discussion the last couple of weeks in meetings held in Carbon County has brought out that to install such a system county wide, proponents would have to overcome some difficult obstacles.

"It think the biggest problem on getting any kind of a system installed isn't the physical energy and money it would take to do so, but finding the actual water shares to allow it to happen," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich at the Carbon County Intergovernmental Council meeting last week.

But just getting the shares for everyone may not be enough either. Physically, the area often doesn't have enough water to supply even what is needed today.

At the Price City Council meeting last Wednesday night Gary Sonntag, the public works director for the city, pointed out that the water situation this year, will actually be worse than last year unless something drastic happens.

"Scofield Reservoir presently has 15,784 acre feet of water in it," he told the council. "Last year at this time it had 19,998."

He also pointed out that snow packs in the drainage that feeds Carbon County, contrary to public perception, are very low. According to Sonntag Mammoth has 55 percent of normal and the White River and Indian Canyon drainages are only at 56 percent. Some experts say that during the warm spell the state had in mid-March, some snowpacks were decreasing at two to three percent per day.

"I think a lot of people were fooled into thinking we had a lot of water because we had so much snow in the valley this winter," stated Sonntag.

Total snowpack measurement as determined for the state and areas within it, are judged on April 1 of each year. Much of the water that has already melted from the white stuff has run into the ground rather than into reservoirs, largely because of the a five year drought that has left the soils in the state parched.

That short run situation of course, has little bearing on what could be done with a secondary system in the long run, because it takes years to design and put in such infrastructure.

There are many people that maintain that secondary systems save water, but that statement is a bit deceptive according to one official.

"Secondary systems, in as of themselves do not save water," says Price River Water Improvement District (PRWID) manager Phil Palmer. "What saves the water is the fact that those systems when installed pipe canals and ditches, which consequently cuts down drastically on the evaporation and seepage. The only way a secondary system actually saves water in end use is if it is metered"

Palmer's agency has been at the forefront of requests from some residents to look into a system that could provide such a system for the entire county. But the problem is that PRWID, began in 1961 as primarily a water district and then expanded to also put sewer systems into the unincorporated areas of the county, is not at this point supposed to be involved in secondary water systems.

Over the past few years various parts of the county have had their agricultural water changed over to pressurized systems. But that work was done in conjunction with canal companies that have been utilizing the services of the county's water expert and federal funding to get the projects done. In addition, most of the systems in the county do not include hookups for everyone, but only those who have shares of water on a canal system.

Recently the membership of the Spring Glen Canal voted to not allow anymore hookups to their piping system that was installed two years ago. On some streets in Spring Glen and Carbonville where that secondary water exists, there are only a few people with actual connections to the system, because the others did not have shares when the system was put in.

Wellington installed a system for all of it's residents a few years ago, but according to Milovich, the city comes to the county each year to lease shares the county owns to supply water to residents. That move that the city made to provide hookups for all residents was not without controversy either. Some of the residents of the town that had shares were upset when everyone in town got the water, because many of those that were hooked up had no shares.

"It's been basically unfair as far as I am concerned," says Jan Minich, a resident of Wellington. "I owned shares of water and then the city comes along and pipes everything and gives the water to everyone. Despite the fact I own shares, I still pay the same fee everyone else does, even though I own an interest in the water."

Minich says that the city has tried to buy his shares but he won't sell because he's concerned about getting water if he gives up his interest in it. He also points out that secondary systems are not the answer to everything.

"There are a lot of trees dying along ditches that used to be filled with water, including some on my property," he says. "We need every tree we can get in this county, but no one except those losing them seem interested in that."

Wellington's decision to pipe secondary water to all residents was unique in the county and some feel other cities could do the same. However, not all cities can or will do that.

"Within a short time all the canals and ditches in Helper City will be piped," states Mayor Joe Bonacci. "But without shares of water the canal companies will not let just anyone hook up to them. Our city doesn't own primary shares so right now nothing can be done for secondary systems for everyone in our town."

Delynn Fielding, the economic director for Carbon County lives in Emery County where some of the cities have pressurized a system for residents use.

"From a consumers point of view these systems make sense,' he states. "We had to turn over a share of water or an equivalent dollar value for it. Most of the residents don't use all the water we are allotted so the city actually gains because of that."

While all water that falls or naturally occurs within Utah is actually owned by the state, companies and individuals have perpetual use of water based on time honored tradition and law. Terms such as riparian rights and beneficial use come into play anytime water is discussed. People are certainly territorial about land, but about water, particularly in the west, they are even more adamant.

"The transmission loss problems that piped systems solve also creates another problem," says Milovich. "In a sense they create extra water that was traditionally lost and there is a chance if that water is not used the federal government could claim it under the conditions of beneficial use."

In other words water that the county may "save" could be taken downstream because Carbon isn't "using it."

A recent request from the residents of the Circle K subdivsion to both PRWID and the county commission has prompted some of this renewed interest in secondary systems. Steve Rigby, a former PRWID board member was the one who approached the two agencies.

"What I am interested in is getting a feasibility study done for our area," said Rigby at the county commission meeting two weeks ago. "We just see that there is money to be saved in having such a system."

At the present time, a feasibility study is the real issue. That would determine how much water would be needed, how the rights to that water could be acquired, what kind of system could be installed and of course it would possibly answer the biggest question of all, the cost to install it.

But these studies take a lot of money, and getting those funds is a problem that many people are working on.

"We might be able to get a grant for 50 percent of the money for such a study, but coming up with the other 50 percent is very tough," says Palmer. "We can't use the money we have for regular water systems or sewers for such a project. It would have to come from somewhere else."

Milovich said that getting grants from the Community Impact Board, of which he is a member, for anything to do with secondary water systems is difficult.

But a feasibility study is probably not the biggest problem proponents face. Much of the water right in the area is owned by private companies or individuals, who may feel much like Minich. To turn what is a private matter into a public one without either large monetary or political costs would be almost unimaginable or more likely impossible.

"Right now people can and are doing their own thing," says Palmer. "A group of residents can start their own special service district and put in a system."

It's all a matter of fortitude and money. Palmer points out that in these days of high costs for doing anything, the road restoration after putting in a system is as or more expensive than actually installing the system.

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