- West Desert residents not going down without a fight
LISTENING TO THE RESIDENTS • The Juab County Commission traveled to Partoun in West Juab County on Monday to gain input from Snake Valley residents. The 30 residents who attended the meeting were adamant that Gov. Herbert should not sign the agreement with Nevada. Photo courtesy of Glenn Greenhalgh, Juab County
By Myrna Trauntvein
If there were any doubts about what the residents of the communities of Juab County's West Desert think about the attempt of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to lay claim to 50 percent of the water those residents use daily, those doubts can be buried deep.
"Governor Gary Herbert has set a meeting on March 7 at 3 p.m. with commissioners from Juab, Millard and Tooele counties to discuss the proposed signing of the agreement with Nevada," said Chad Winn, Juab County Commission Chairman.
Juab County Commissioners traveled to the West Desert to the community of Partoun, 173 miles west of Nephi, on Monday to meet with residents there. More than 30 people attended the meeting and all wanted it understood that they did not approve of the governor signing the agreement.
A dozen of the residents addressed the commission and discussed their ideas about the proposal of SNWA. The project would convey up to 155,000 acre-feet per year of water, with up to 122,000 afy of groundwater developed by SNWA and the remaining capacity provided for Lincoln County.
At the conclusion of the meeting, commissioners were instructed unanimously to tell Governor Herbert not to sign an agreement with Nevada which would allow 50 percent of the water in nearby Spring Valley underground aquifers to go to the SNWA.
"We are here to listen," said Glenn Greenhalgh, county planning director.
He had been requested to review the history of the proposal by SNWA to utilize the water from the underground basin to slack the thirst of Las Vegas. Part of that review was the recommendation made by three of the state's top notch water attorneys that the governor should sign the agreement to protect the rights of the West Desert residents.
That is not quite how the residents of the area see the agreement.
Kathy Hill said that the governor's plan to do as the residents wished, either sign the agreement or not, was a bit faulty. He had said that the attorney consultants Herbert consulted thought the agreement offered protection to residents so that they would not, in case the water draw down aversely affected them, have to fight a lawsuit on their own.
"That's not the attitude that I want from the governor," said Hill. "I think this is a state issue and the governor needs to have our back whether we agree with this agreement or not, whether we want it signed now or whether we want it signed later or whether we open up new agreement negotiations."
"The governor needs to know that we expect him to stand behind us through this whole fight," Hill said.
West Desert residents take no solace in the BLM's right of way route that keeps the water authority out of Snake Valley because they believe tapping the water in the adjacent valley will have outcomes that are just as disastrous.
The biggest concern of most of those speaking is that there is no excess water. They are also concerned that a 50/50 split of the water will result in Nevada ending up with more than the 50 percent.
"There is every reason to believe that there is insufficient water to supply the necessities of the residents of this valley alone without taking one drop someplace else," said Cecil Garland, who has been fighting the proposal since 1989.
Nevada hopes that Utah will ignore the 50/50 proposal and not make too much of it for good reason. That reason being, that the state then recognizes that SNWA has a right to 50 percent of the water even though much of it is just paper water.
"They'll shut you down and they'll take the 50 percent and when that's gone they'll come in, one way or another, and try to take the rest," he said.
As for the clause allowing Utah to shut down the pumps if there is a certain level of damage, it will not happen, he said. How does the state go about shutting down the pumps?
Don Dove, Douglas Ranch in Callao, said he had spent 40 years of his career studying the Deep Creek and Snake Range and there was no surplus water in the Snake Range. In fact, there was no ground water recharge and, in the last 10 to 15 years, a half mile of Granite Creek and Red Cedar Creek had been lost.
Dennis Kemp said that one thing that struck him the most was that the agreement talks about litigating the damage after it is done.
"To me, if we sign that agreement, we are just inviting that damage to come," he said. "Once the governor signs the agreement, we've invited Nevada to come and take water that we don't think is there."
Annette Garland said, "I don't think we need to play our card yet. We don't have to be a pawn. So I'm saying, let's hold off and see what happens."
Allan Johnson said he would like to quote a great Republican, Nancy Regan, and "just say no."
Don Anderson, who sits on the Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council, said he thought that there was outside pressure on the governor to sign the agreement with Nevada.
"We are a commonsense people here," said Johnson.
He said that he had been around water rights all of his life as a farmer and rancher and knew that at the meeting those in attendance had years of accumulated knowledge of how water worked.
"Let's find out how much water is really there," he said.
Late last fall, a trio of water attorneys consulted by Herbert's office issued a report in which they said the agreement, while not perfect, is better than a protracted legal battle between the two states over how the groundwater would be divided.
The Bureau of Land Management released a crucial decision two days after Christmas that approved of a water pipeline "right of way."
Utah has developed the majority of water in the area at 55,000 acre-feet to Nevada's 12,000 acre-feet.
Under the proposed agreement, Utah would develop an additional 6,000 acre-feet of water per year, while Nevada would get 35,000 acre-feet of water per year. The attorneys said that would allow Nevada to "catch up" to the point where there is a 50/50 split.
"We can see these farms and ranches going on to your posterity," said Byron Woodland, commissioner. "We want to make sure it is a good place for them to live."