Summit's water ruling could come by August

Thursday , July 09, 2015 - 11:11 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The graphic explaining an acre-foot of water was corrected to fix an incorrect usage amount for Powder Mountain. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.

EDEN — Utah’s chief water rights engineer has yet to issue his final decision on whether Summit can begin pumping water in its Hidden Lake Well on top of Powder Mountain. But a recent email exchange hints it could be a less-than-favorable answer for the anxious developer.

Brad Petersen, who directs Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, emailed State Engineer Kent Jones of the Utah Division of Water Rights on Monday, asking when Jones might deliver his decision on the matter.

“I have been working with Summit Powder Mountain over the last 18 months to support their master plan development, predominantly as a result of their commitment to investing in new recreational facilities,” Petersen said, adding that he did not intend to interfere with his process, but sought input on when an answer might come.

“Their construction window is very short, and time is of the essence,” Petersen said. “The new mountain bike and equestrian trail system that will benefit the general public is tied to their residential development plan.”

A timeline of the Hidden Lake Well water fight:

Jones responded to Petersen Tuesday morning by email, explaining the complexity of the situation and that he hoped to finalize his decision “in the next few weeks.”

However, Jones hinted that Summit might not receive the full approval it seeks.

“Although there may be times when this well can be pumped without causing impairment, I am struggling to see how this well can be pumped year round without diminishing the amount of water available to the prior rights of downstream users in both drainages,” Jones wrote.

Summit owns the rights to 1,400 acre feet of Pineview Reservoir water, and in April 2014, applied for an exchange of 400 acre feet to use in its Hidden Lake Well near the divide between Weber and Cache Counties. Essentially, in exchange for allowing the well to pump that much water from higher aquifers, a corresponding 400 acre feet would be released from Pineview Reservoir to make water users whole down below. That release would not benefit residents who live above the reservoir or on the Cache Valley side of the mountain, however.  

Summit’s exchange request drew a flood of protests from water users and providers in both counties who feared that Summit’s plan would cause aquifers and streams to run dry. And dueling hydrogeologic studies produced conflicting conclusions as to whether the well’s use would interfere with senior water rights below.

“The considerations to be made by my office primarily include ... whether this exchange of water can be made without impairing the rights of others,” Jones wrote to Petersen. “Much study and review has been conducted, including opposing hydrogeologic reports, an aquifer test to help determine effects of pumping the well — with opposing interpretations of the results of the test, and expressed concerns from the water users on the Cache Valley and the Ogden Valley sides that their rights will be impaired when the well is pumped.”

A map showing the Utah Geological Survey's model for future drawdown around Summit's Hidden Lake Well, if they pump 100 gallons per minute continuously over the next 10 years. The model, however, assumed no recharge to the aquifer from snowmelt and precipitation.

For Summit’s part, Chief Operating Officer Paul Strange expressed excitement that a decision would be coming soon.

“That timing matches up with our vertical construction planned for this August. We’ve had infrastructure work going on since early June to support this construction and complete our Phase I roads, water, sewer, and power infrastructure,” Strange said, adding that the recent email exchange was encouraging because it indicated “no likelihood of an outright denial.”

However, Strange said that Summit stakeholders are looking beyond the current exchange application and exploring other options as well.

“We are actively pursuing the acquisition of water right on the Cache County side of the divide; not only for potential mitigation, should the State Engineer require it as a condition to using the Hidden Lake Well, but also for future development,” Strange said. “We also are in discussions with Weber County interests for potential mitigation efforts there.”

Strange said he also foresees the need for the upper valley’s multiple water providers to come together under one umbrella.

“We believe the long term needs of the valley will require a regional water system under the auspices of Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and with the participation of Summit, all local public water supply entities and even private water users,” Strange said. “We would encourage Weber Basin to initiate that planning process with all interested parties, as that will help address the longer term water supply needs of the valley.”

Standard-Examiner reporter Leia Larsen created the interactive timeline of the well water fight.

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

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