Eden water users challenge Summit with 'signs of frustration'

Tuesday , May 12, 2015 - 8:51 AM

EDEN — Several signs and bumper stickers have cropped up around town, proclaiming that “SUMMIT SUCKS WATER.”

Snow-capped mountains grace the upper third of the graphic, with parched earth below and the words: Summit Powder Mountain, Please Develop Water Rights Responsibly.

Eden resident Lee Schussman called them “signs of frustration.”

“There are growing numbers of these in the Ogden Valley,” Schussman said in an email to the Standard-Examiner. “I think they are the result of growing levels of frustration (and even cynicism) on the part of many Ogden Valley residents.”

The visual jab at Summit — the collective that purchased Powder Mountain in 2013 and plans to develop it in phases — is an attempt to bring them to the table to talk about alternatives, said Eden resident Gay Browning, one of the grassroots organizers of the effort.

“It’s mainly about the absolute frustration we have that several hydrologists say there will be interference,” Browning said. “It’s very strange to me that when Summit claims they want to collaborate, they don’t come in and have a dialogue. We have an intense problem that we’d like better solutions for.”

By interference, Browning referred to senior water rights in the upper Ogden Valley that she and others believe will be impacted by Summit Mountain Holding Group, LLC (SMHG) placing its mountaintop Hidden Lake Well into operation — something it cannot do without approval from Utah’s Division of Water Rights.

More than two dozen individuals and entities filed protests to SMHG’s exchange request for 400 acre feet of Pineview water, and after a costly, year-long battle between dueling hydrologists and attorneys, State Engineer Kent Jones is expected to issue his decision on the matter by early summer.

In response to the signs, Summit Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Paul Strange defended the company’s approach.

“We plan to live here and be good neighbors for the long haul. We expect and welcome conversation about how we can create our community on the mountain as responsibly as possible,” Strange said in a letter to the Standard-Examiner.

Strange cited preliminary Utah Geological Survey data referenced in a February 2015 Standard-Examiner story that said Summit’s 14-day pump test last December showed “no statistically significant impact” on springs and streams that supply water to residents above Pineview Reservoir.

But Strange did not include additional comments from UGS project geologist Paul Inkenbrandt that said “Depending on recharge conditions and the amount of pumping and number (and) placement of wells, we could see impact on streams and springs on both sides of the mountain.”

The UGS intends to conduct further field work this summer on behalf of the State Engineer and Division of Water Rights, and expects publish more conclusive findings this fall.

Strange reiterated Summit’s right to tap its water rights.

“Like our neighbors, we need water and have a right to the water we purchased with our land,” Strange said. “Neither our experts (Loughlin Water Associates) nor the Utah Geological Survey’s experts have seen any evidence of interference from our Hidden Lake well. We remain committed to a neighborly resolution of all concerns, and look forward to many years of living together in this community.”

However, Cascade Water Resources — geohydrologists hired by some of the protestants — arrived at different conclusions.

Lower Lefty’s Spring, the source that supplies Wolf Creek residents with water, registered almost a 20-percent drop during the well’s 14-day drawdown, Cascade concluded.

Cascade’s study also 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 of the mountain and “cannot be replaced from Pineview Reservoir.”

In his email about the signs, Schussman said that many valley residents consider that decreased spring flow to be significant, and also believe that SMHG’s well water source “is really from a Cache County watershed.”

Schussman voiced fears that political pressure might carry more influence on the outcome than science.

“Much to the chagrin of thousands of Ogden Valley residents, SMHG has continued with every legal means at their disposal to move their water rights from Pineview to Power Mountain,” Schussman said, “and elected officials seem to be supporting those efforts — thus, the ‘signs of frustration.’”

Eden resident Jim Halay said he willingly slapped a SUMMIT SUCKS bumper sticker on the back of his car.

“It’s a matter of money,” Halay said. “It cost the Ogden Valley hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to preserve what is ours in the first place.”

Unless an amicable solution can be found, the water fight will land in court, Halay added, which would place a further drain on strained resources.

“In order to sue them, we have to spend a lot of money to defend what is ours,” Halay said.

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

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