Weber County water dispute underscores heightened demand and limited supply

Thursday , March 16, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

MARRIOTT-SLATERVILLE — Without the water he gets from an irrigation ditch and the underground supply beneath his land, it can get dry on Kent Meyerhoffer’s plot of property.

“Without that water we have nothing but a desert,” he said.

He’s cultivated alfalfa for years on his small 25-acre piece of land west of Business Depot Ogden. But now, following installation of two pumps by the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District that tap underground water and funnel it to Willard Canal on the western edge of his land, Meyerhoffer worries the already tenuous water supply will turn to dust.

It’s had an impact already, reducing his alfalfa output last year, and he worries about a repeat this year. “I just want them to quit pumping the groundwater,” he said.

That may not be in the cards, according to a rep from the conservancy district, and the situation is yet one more indicator of the increasing scarcity of water as demand increases. It also underscores the tension that can arise when competition ramps up for a limited supply.

“It’s becoming more and more precious,” said Scott Paxman, the conservancy district assistant general manager. “As water becomes more and more limited, the conflicts become more and more apparent.”

Paxman said conservancy district reps have tried to be accommodating with Meyerhoffer, a retired food broker who cultivates alfalfa as a side operation. They tried to time pumping last year so it wouldn’t sap his water supply from the irrigation ditch when he flooded his alfalfa fields.

Conservancy district officials will probably do the same thing this year, Paxman said, but whether they keep up the practice in the long haul, “that’s another question.”

Tight water supply

Typically, the water table sits three-and-a-half to four feet below the surface of the land on his property, Meyerhoffer said. But after the conservancy district installed the pumps to draw groundwater into Willard Canal, that fell to as low as eight feet or so at times.

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Willard Canal, which started operating in 1964, diverts water from the Weber River to Willard Bay further north. From the bay, it’s directed via other canals and waterways to farmers and other water clients elsewhere.

The supply to Meyerhoffer’s land comes from a ditch on the east side of his land that’s fed by Mill Creek when flood gates are opened to provide him with his allotment of water. He flood irrigates his land, and the water he gets has always been enough over the years to properly supply his fields.

When the new conservancy district pumps went in last summer, though, lowering the water table, things changed. One of Meyerhoffer’s water allotments soaked into the ground because of the depleted water table, flooding only part of his alfalfa field. In the end, it reduced his yield for the year by about 300 or 400 bales, down from around 2,500 bales, the norm.

The reduced supply also seemed to stress trees and home gardens. Indeed, Meyerhoffer has started circulating a petition, asking that the pumps be turned off permanently. It had backing of a dozen neighbors as of Monday.

“The trees and vegetation in the area appear to be stressed and we have reports of some dying and suspect it is due to the lack of water,” the petition reads.

Officials from the conservancy district, a public non-profit entity, have long held the rights to the water in the reservoir under Meyerhoffer’s land, but didn’t tap into the supply until now. They didn’t need to, according to Paxman.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re becoming very tight on our water demand and supply,” Paxman said. “Just more demand.”

The pumping, which occurred only over the summer and for only part of the time, not the entire year, helps counter seepage from the Willard Canal. Part of the waterway is lined with concrete, but water can still seep through joints, he said.

He noted that the flip side of not pumping, of letting groundwater accumulate, can be flooded basements. The conservancy district sometimes gets complaints about that, too.

“We’re never in a good spot, it seems,” Paxman said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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