At the agency’s regular board meeting Sept. 5, GWSSA Executive Director Mark Sovine explained that the proposal is still in its early stages and that the final decision will be made by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Sovine said that while some discussions with the BLM officials have taken place, those were merely preliminary.
“I was asked [by the board] to go talk to the BLM to find out what we need to do,” Sovine said, adding that the BLM’s decision won’t take place until after a formal application is made and public hearings are held, a process that is likely to take several months or more.
“This is a starting point,” Sovine said.
He and GWSSA board members are recommending a study period of up to three years, starting in 2014.
“We definitely need to have [the stream flow] monitored this winter,” said Gary Wilson, vice president of the GWSSA operating committee.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, local residents Chris Baird, director of Canyonlands Watershed Council, and John Weisheit, director of Living Rivers, a water conservation and protection advocacy group, took issue with the proposal. They said it could harm the aquifer’s ability to recharge and cause problems associated with invasive vegetation and damage to riparian habitats.
“The south fork of Mill Creek has already been 75 percent dewatered from its natural flow,” Baird said, noting that the stream historically had a flow of around 11 cubic feet per second.
In the early 1980s, an agreement was negotiated by the BLM and GWSSA, along with input from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This agreement has allowed the GWSSA to divert water from Mill Creek via the Sheley Tunnel into Ken’s Lake reservoir whenever the Mill Creek stream flow has exceeded 3 cubic feet per second (cfs). It is this agreement that the GWSSA is looking at possibly renegotiating.
Baird said that the creek’s lowest recorded natural flow is 2.1 cfs.
“This proposal will take it below its lowest natural flows,” he said, noting that GWSSA’s preliminary proposal asks the minimum required stream flow be reduced by half, from 3 cfs to 1.5 cfs.
GWSSA’s draft proposal states that by reducing the minimum streamflow to as low as 1.5 cfs, an additional 450 acre-feet could be diverted into Ken’s Lake during the four winter months so that more water would be available to irrigation customers at the start of the season.
“While 450 acre-feet is less than 12 percent of the agency’s water right, in 2013 it would have increased available irrigation water by 73 percent,” the proposal states.
Due to drought-like conditions over the past two years, GWSSA irrigation customers had to reduce their usage by half of their normal allotment in 2012 and by 60 percent in 2013. Ken’s Lake irrigation water is distributed via more than 15 miles of pipeline to about 150 users who hold stock in the Moab Irrigation Company.
Although Ken’s Lake had more than 1,800 acre-feet of water at the start of the season in 2012, it had essentially run out of water by the end of the season, with less than 200 acre-feet left in the reservoir in September 2012. This year, the lake level peaked in May at only about 600 acre-feet, according to GWSSA documents. As of Aug. 31, the lake’s level was 259 acre-feet.
Ideally, Ken’s Lake should contain at least 400 acre-feet to maintain a healthy conservation pool, Sovine said.
Two BLM officials who attended the Sept. 5 meeting – Beth Ransel and Lisa Bryant – said the agency would respond to the proposal once it has been formally submitted as part of a specific application process. The BLM will review its own resource management plan along with related environmental studies, as well as hold public hearings on the issue, Ransel said.
As for the final shutdown of the Ken’s Lake irrigation water system for 2013, rainstorms earlier this week have delayed the date by at least a week, until possibly the beginning of October, GWSSA officials said. Customers will be notified by mail when the final shutdown date is decided.