Water experts take jabs at each other over Summit's Hidden Lake Well

Thursday , April 23, 2015 - 4:52 PM

EDEN — Final concerns regarding Summit’s Hidden Lake Well pump test recently flooded the state Division of Water Rights office in time for last Friday’s deadline, detailing sharp differences in opinion about the well’s future impact on area water supply.

With that information in hand — three reports and a pile of letters — the decision of whether to approve Summit’s request to release 400 acre feet out of Pineview Reservoir in exchange for the right to pump that amount of water from its mountaintop well now lies in the hands of State Engineer Kent Jones.

On Summit’s side, in March, Park City-based Loughlin Water Associates submitted its 244-page analysis of the 14-day pump test conducted last December and concluded that there was no impact to any monitored wells and springs below.

But more than two dozen entities — including Weber and Cache Counties, Ogden city, and several small water companies and property owners — filed written protests regarding the well. Some protestants hired Cascade Water Resources, also based in Park City, which in March also submitted its analysis of the same pump test, arriving at markedly different conclusions.

On Friday, Cascade submitted an additional technical evaluation describing Loughlin’s hydrogeology as “inconsistent and self-contradictory.”

But Loughlin’s 19-page rebuttal claimed that Cascade presented erroneous facts and calculations, incorrect and selective use of data, and conflicting conclusions.

Cascade warns of water grab

“It has been very disturbing to watch the hydrogeology presented by LWA change not with data, but with the addition of more protestants that have senior water rights on the streams the impacted streams are tributary to,” Cascade’s most recent report said.

One of the sites monitored on the Weber County side, called Lower Lefty’s Spring, registered almost a 20-percent drop during the well’s 14-day drawdown. Miranda Menzies, a member of the Wolf Creek Water & Sewer Improvement District board, said it took several weeks to recover.

In addition to critiquing Loughlin’s analysis, Cascade suggested alternatives for Summit’s phased mountainside development, including: 1) piping and treating water from Pineview Reservoir; 2) drilling a distant well away from the drainage divide between Cache and Weber Counties; or 3) developing the more prolific and sustainable springs on the Cache County side, which would involve purchasing additional water rights.

Summit already owns the rights to 1,400 acre feet of Pineview Water in Weber County, and the current exchange application seeks the release of 400.

Loughlin fires back at Cascade

In Loughlin’s rebuttal, it describes Cascade’s 2015 report as “full of unqualified almost editorial statements that are unsupported, exaggerated and/or misleading.”

Loughlin defended Summit’s unusually timed 14-day pump test: “December 2014 was an excellent time of the year to assess the impacts of pumping on the Nounan aquifer and associated springs,” noting that water levels were falling and the region was in its fourth year of drought. At the same time, Powder Mountain Ski Resort was at high use, and the pump test rate of 150 gallons per minute exceeded projected water usage “for many years.”

Typically such tests are conducted between September and November.

Loughlin also reiterated its overall conclusion that “the available data show no demonstrable future impairment to water rights in Weber or Cache County.”

Will Wolf Creek be the big loser?

The Wolf Creek Water & Sewer Improvement District also submitted a 25-page response in advance of last Friday’s deadline, urging Jones to deny Summit’s request based on 1) impairment of the senior water rights of ranchers and residents in the upper Ogden Valley, and 2) diversion of water from the Cache County Bear River Basin.

“It is clear (Lefty’s) Spring will be dried up by the proposed operation of the well . . . because the proposed withdrawal rate is greater than the annual recharge of the aquifer,” the District’s report said. It also projected that impaired water flows would cut irrigation water revenue by 20 percent.

According to Menzies, upper and lower Lefty’s Springs flow into the headwaters of Wolf Creek, which provides irrigation water both to Wolf Creek Irrigation Company and to the District.

“So it waters all the fields from Wolf Creek Resort down along Powder Mountain Road to Valley Market, Snowcrest Junior High School area and Old Eden,” Menzies said. “It also waters the Wolf Creek Golf Course, and about 1000 homes in Wolf Creek, Patio Springs, Eden Hills, and the village of Eden.”

A chart for Lower Lefty’s — published in different formats by both Loughlin and Cascade — illustrates what Menzies and other protestants fear — that use of the Hidden Lake Well could dry up Lefty’s Spring and have broad impact on everyone fed by Wolf Creek water.

“The drawdown in the Hidden Lake Well (161 feet) brought the well water level to 130 feet below the elevation of Lefty’s Spring,” the District’s report said. “It is clear the spring will be dried up by the proposed operation of the well, and that the rate at which the well overdraws the aquifer means that it is not sustainable at the proposed pumping of 120 gallons per minute, because the proposed withdrawal rate is greateer than the annual recharge of the aquifer.”

Cache County also fears major impact

Cascade’s study indicated that 75 to 81 percent of the Nounan Aquifer and water that would recharge the Hidden Lake Well would flow from the Cache County side and “cannot be replaced from Pineview Reservoir.”

Cache County Water Manager Bob Fotheringham reiterated his concerns in an April 14 letter to the state engineer, faulting the location of Summit’s Hidden Lake Well based on state policy that says “no filings are approved in canyon areas above fully appropriated springs and streams” due to potential interference with existing rights.

“This application lacks the required mitigation to protect prior appropriators,” Fotheringham said, adding that Cache County believes that water withdrawn from the Hidden Lake Well “is tributary to the Bear River and always has been.”

State Engineer Jones expects to issue his decision by early summer.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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