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PRWID Prepares to Conduct Comprehensive Study Of Water System

Sun Advocate community editor

The water that flows into Scofield Reservoir, the main water supply for Carbon County, comes from a number of streams that are fed by mountain snows and, in one case, by mine water that is being pumped out of Skyline Mine.

Water is the life blood of a desert community and the situation is true in Castle Valley. But the issue of water becomes a moot point if a supply system is insufficient or inefficient.

At the Price River Water Improvement District board meeting last Tuesday, PRWID manager Phil Palmer requested authorization to secure funding to conduct a comprehensive study on the agency's entire system.

The study will evaluate the district's supply, treatment and delivery of water.

"Supplying water to everyone who needs it in the unincorporated county is a complex job," explained PRWID assistant manager Jeff Richens in an interview on Thursday. "There are a lot of questions to be answered about our system and about what happens when growth takes place in the county. We need to be able to anticipate what we will need to do in the future."

At one time, the county had more than twice as many residents as it does today. The 1950 census shows the county had more than 40,000 residents, compared a current population of slightly less 20,000 people.

"In those days, the population was spread all over the county," noted Richens. "There were thriving coal camps dotting the county and the East Carbon-Sunnyside area was full of people. They just didn't live in the same places or intend to live where they do today."

The main area PRWID presently supplies is the central part of the county around Price and Wellington and into Miller Creek.

The PRWID system is not the primary water supplier for Helper, East Carbon or Price.

However, the district is currently selling water to Helper on a temporary basis until a project to replace thee city's supply lines is completed.

PRWID also has an exchange agreement with Price to help out during the summer when the city's well system will not supply all the needed water.

In addition, while Wellington has supply lines, PRWID sells water to the community as a wholesaler.

But real growth is occurring in unincorporated areas of the county. Anticipated expansion also involves the unincorporated areas. Therefore, the water to sustain the growth must come from PRWID. The district has been in business since 1978.

Originally, the agency was set up to handle installing and operating sewer systems in the county in the early 1960s. PRWID currently supplies water to 10,000 people.

"One of the main purposes of a water study would be to identify our future needs," stated Richens. "Part of that is based on what is called the 10,000 rule. If we go over that 10,000 in population mark there are substantial changes in how we have to test and treat the water we produce from our treatment plant."

When that happens, Richens said the agency must test for a number of substances in the water the district doesn't have to test for now. And if the substances exist, the materials must be removed.

"Mostly, it has to do with organics in the water, and the process is much more complicated and expensive," pointed out Richens.

Projected growth would be a major part of the study, particularly when it comes to industrial areas in the county.

Economic expansion is often directly related to infrastructure and water is particularly important to development.

"Look at some of the areas where industrial growth could happen in the county," said Richens. "What would we do if the airport's growth really took off? The projection has been to put in an industrial area around the airport servicing some kind of aviation business, but we have only one small water line that runs out there and one small tank for supply. That would need to change."

Since many industries require a great deal of water, the PRWID assistant manager said a problem could arise if companies wanted to move certain kinds of business operations into the county.

"Food processing plants take a huge amount of water," noted Richens, referring to a preliminary projection for one near the Sunnyside Junction on U.S. Highway 6. "When we started to look at that possibility, the entire complex there could use a million gallons of water a day."

PRWID works closely with Delynn Fielding, the county's economic director, on local development projects, pointed out Richens.

Fielding often sends preliminary paperwork to Richens asking him about different businesses and how they would impact PRWID's ability to provide services.

Besides keying in on the 10,000 rule a study would also look at a number of other things in the existing system and how they could be upgraded if need be.

The first would be to identify the areas that the system can't supply now.

"When we talk about places in the county we can't supply, people usually only think of the supply lines themselves," indicated Richens. "But there is a lot more to it than just the pipes."

Richens added that if new lines are put in, the system may also require more storage tanks, which are very expensive to build. In addition, if more overall supply is needed the main supply lines that come from the treatment plant in Price Canyon may not be enough to handle the added demand. That might mean laying a larger line from the treatment plant into the populous area of the county or laying an additional parallel line. In addition, pressurization and looping systems designed to give customers a constant supply of water should one side of a system fail, are other considerations when looking at the expense of expanding into areas that the agency presently does not provide water for. All these things are very costly.

Next, a study would identify the agency's water resources, looking at the existing ones and where new ones could come from if needed.

"People see Scofield Reservoir and say to themselves 'there's plenty of water there for drinking even if it is low'," stated Richens. "The problem is that PRWID only has rights to about 10 percent of the water in that reservoir. The question we have to ask ourselves is if growth takes place, how much water are we going to need to gain the rights to to serve that growth?"

That same part of the study will also look at existing water leases PRWID has, the water exchange agreement with Price City and what other resources might be available.

It would also deal with water source protection as well.

"Our drainage and consequently our supplies not only come from Carbon County but also from Emery, Sanpete, Wasatch, Duchesne and Utah counties," explained Richens. "We all know about what has been going on for many years concerning the conflict on the Gooseberry Dam construction. What about those other areas. The White River drainage comes from Wasatch, Utah and Duchesne counties."

The water shares that PRWID owns or leases are very much like any other share private citizens own. In drought years, each share actually relates to less water, because the delivery on a share might be reduced, based on the available supplies.

"This year the reservoir was only able to deliver 65 percent of the normal amount of water per share (through the dam) than can be delivered in a normal year," he said. "What would happen if we had a dry winter this year and that dropped to 35 percent next year? We need to study those circumstances, how they affect us and what we can do about it if it does happen at some future date."

Finally the study would look at the major sources of pollution in the water supply. That may include direct pollution (such as from an industrial plant or a mine) and non-point pollution sources (such as runoff from parking lots).

"Look around Scofield Reservoir and observe the development that is going on in the area," explained Richens. "A number of years ago a sewer system was put in for the cabins right around the lake and that helped with the pollution a great deal. But now there are other houses and cabins being built in large numbers. These are not as close to the lake as the others were, but water flows underground from them and they are all on septic tank systems."

However, Richens said the main point of pollution in the reservoir comes from cattle that are all over the place in the valleys and mountains above.

"Our biggest problem is coliform levels," stated Richens.

Fecal coliform is a non-pathogenic bacteria that naturally occurs in the digestive tracks of warm-blooded animals. "Non-pathogenic" means fecal coliform does not cause diseases. However, it is often found in association with pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms. The problem of animal wastes in runoff can be increased by livestock grazing along the stream. Vegetation that grows near streams acts as a buffer. This vegetation absorbs toxins and nutrients and traps sediments before they reach the stream. Livestock remove the vegetation. Without a vegetation buffer, pollutants can move freely from a field into a stream.

The study may also delve into other areas as they arise in the development of a plan for its implementation. Any study will be done by an independent contractor who can look at all the factors that add to water quality and water supply for Carbon County.

"This study is something we need to complete to plan for and meet the future water needs of the county," concluded Richens.

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