GWSSA imposes further water restrictions, seeks to divert more water from Mill Creek
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
May 30, 2013 | 2617 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Extremely low water levels at Ken’s Lake this spring are raising concerns about irrigation water allotments for Spanish Valley users. Photo by Tom Taylor
Extremely low water levels at Ken’s Lake this spring are raising concerns about irrigation water allotments for Spanish Valley users. Photo by Tom Taylor
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Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency customers who use Ken’s Lake reservoir water for irrigation now face even further water usage restrictions. The agency is also seeking support for a plan to divert more water from Mill Creek into Ken’s Lake during winter months.

At a special meeting held last Wednesday, May 22, GWSSA board members voted unanimously to reduce this year’s Ken’s Lake irrigation allotments to water users by 60 percent due to the lake’s low water levels. The board had voted earlier this spring to restrict Ken’s Lake irrigation users to 50 percent of the normal annual allotment.

GWSSA manager Mark Sovine said the Ken’s Lake’s water level was at 531 acre-feet as of May 22, only 29 percent of its normal capacity at that time of year. In addition, precipitation is only 80 percent of average so far this season, and with current snowpack and soil moisture levels, runoff is estimated to be less than half of average, Sovine said.

“This is everybody’s problem,” Sovine noted. “Everyone is going to have to sacrifice.”

The additional irrigation water restrictions are effective immediately. Sovine said the move could save another 250 acre-feet of irrigation water, based on all system users taking their full 40 percent allotment, and added that a rotation schedule is currently being worked out.

“People aren’t really doing anything different than last year,” said GWSSA board member Gary Wilson, also an irrigation water user. “It’s dry and they’re used to it.”

Irrigation water customers who use up their allotment will have to rely on well water to irrigate their crops, and some are already starting to put in new wells, Sovine said.

Board requests more Mill Creek water

The GWSSA board members also voted to send a letter to the Grand County Council and the San Juan County Commission requesting support for a plan to divert more water from Mill Creek into Ken’s Lake prior to the beginning of each irrigation season. 

According to the letter, which was drafted and mailed out May 23, the GWSSA is currently working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to negotiate a change to a written agreement that sets the required stream flows in Mill Creek below the Sheley Tunnel.

But Spanish Valley resident Bill Love spoke out against the plan during the meeting, saying that reducing Mill Creek stream flows could damage the underground aquifer.

According to Love, both the Manti La Sal National Forest and Moab city’s resource protection plans consider Mill Creek a major recharge zone for the Glen Canyon aquifer. 

“The recharge to the aquifer is from the creek running over the sandstone in the creek bed. My concern is that Mill Creek will no longer flow in parts of its bed for a substantial period of the year, and the underlying sandstone will dry and lose its ability to transport surface water into the aquifer in future years,” Love said in an e-mail sent to the agencies involved and to The Times-Independent. Love cited a 2012 U.S. Geological Survey review and other studies to support his assertions.

But Sovine said the agency’s intent is to conserve water and increase availability, and not to harm the aquifer.

“GWSSA doesn’t want to or plan to destroy the watershed or drain the aquifer. There are enough checks in the system to prevent that from happening,” Sovine said, noting that much of the water used in agriculture goes back into the aquifer.

“Much of the water running through Mill Creek in the winter ends up merely going to the river,” the GWSSA letter states. “If an agreement is reached, the agency could release extra water in good years and would potentially not be forced to disturb the conservation pool in poor years.”

The letter states that adjusting Mill Creek stream flows could also save energy by reducing the amount of pumping needed.

This year’s watering restrictions are already having a negative effect on the local economy, the agency acknowledged. “Hay prices are up and livestock owners are concerned about reduced availability,” the letter states.

Marcy Clokey-Till, a Spanish Valley water user who grows alfalfa for her horses, said during the May 22 meeting that she is concerned about being charged the same amount in base fees, even with her usage allotment being cut in half or more.

“If I’m only using 40 percent, then I should only have to pay 40 percent,” she said after the meeting.

According to Sovine, the average cost of Ken’s Lake water is $35 per acre-foot, but because it is a set price based on 100 percent allotment, the water restrictions drive the cost of pumped water higher. For example, a 50 percent restriction increases the acre-foot price to $70, he said.

Despite the multiple difficulties associated with having a second consecutive low water year, Sovine said he hopes feasible solutions can be worked out.

“Agency board and staff are committed to achieving a responsible, long-term solution,” officials said in the May 23 letter. “We are all in this together and we all need to adapt to the changing climate.” 

Sovine said as of May 29, that the agency had not yet received a response from either Grand or San Juan county regarding the letter.

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