Thursday, September 27, 2007

Water rights... stop the abuse of power

This post is a personal opinion by a resident of Escalante Valley. It is also posted in conjuction with Bloggers' Unite, and effort to bring world-wide attention to abuse of all kinds.

I've done a little research on this issue of suddenly needing to restrict the use of water in Escalante Valley, Utah.

In the state of Utah, water is public property, and to use it personally, you must purchase "water rights". Typically, they are sold by the acre-foot (325.8 thousand gallons). You purchase that right for a lifetime, to use annually.

Over the years, the State Water Engineer has established water usage "duties" as well as the formulas determining how much water it takes to do certain activities, like irrigation. The duty for irrigation water in this valley is four acre-feet of water per acre of crop, no matter the crop, or the irrigation method.

In our valley, the most prevalent crop is alfalfa. Corn and potatoes comprise less than 20% of total crop production. Also, of all the water used, less than 10% of the water rights are dedicated to domestic or culinary use.

The State Water Engineer has been tasked with the requirement to establish Ground Water Management Plans for various regions in Utah. The Beryl-Escalante Aquifer has been singled out as an example of "water mining". That is the unique situation where far more water appears to be removed annually that is re-charged by natural runoff.

Here's what I find interesting.

Water users, including the large irrigation users do not meter their water. Home users don't meter their water. So just exactly how do you really know how much is being used?

The State Water Engineer bases his figures on how many "water rights" have been sold and recorded with the state. It shows there are approximately 83,000 acre-feet of water rights issued in the Beryl-Escalante Valley Basin.

Best "guesstimates" are an annual re-charge rate of some 33,000 acre feet.

Unfortunately, there is no credit for conservation of water. The State Water Engineer's office makes no distinction for the difference of using a "corn gun" vs using drip irrigation, or even calculation the savings generated by simply lowering the sprinkler heads on the large pivot wheels.

Their water usage tables are way out of whack when it comes to how much water is used for watering farm animals. We water three horses, nine sheep, and just under two dozen chickens. We control the water we use by always putting the water into measured containers.

Our horses rarely drink more than 15 gallons per horse per day, and yet the calculations say we are using 75 gallons per day.

Our entire herd of sheep rarely drink more than 20 gallons per day and yet, the State Water Engineer declares the sheep drink 45 gallons per day.

Our chickens rarely collectively consume more than 4 gallons of water per day, and yet the forumlas say our chickens consume nearly 18 gallons per day.

So, if we use about half or so of what we're allowed, what happens when that figure is multiplied across the valley population?

The large water users have formed a group called the Escalante Valley Water Users Association. They have come up with a plan that is unprecedented in Utah history. In addition to actively working to conserve water usage, they are willing to participate 50/50 with the state to repurchase and retire up to 20% of the existing water rights.

That is a much more palatable solution than the one proposed by the State Water Engineer. His solution is to cut off water rights for anyone who's rights are dated more recently than 1941. That solution would take away virtually all the domestic water rights. With no domestic rights, homes become unfit for occupancy and millions of dollars worth of property become worthless overnight.

The State Water Engineer has been routinely rejecting any plan offered by the Escalante Valley Water Users Association. I personally believe that after the meeting this last Monday night, at which almost all the local legislators pledged their whole-hearted support... things may change.

If in fact, the State Water Engineer is being short-sighted and heavy-handed to the point of abusing the valley... things could get very exciting.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 8:00 AM

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