The Tooele County School District is looking for 26.5 acre feet of culinary water rights for two new schools that are already open.
The 26.5 acre feet of water — one acre foot of water per year equals 325,861 gallons annually — is the amount of water rights Tooele City has asked the school district to provide the city for the Community Learning Center, which opened in 2010, and Settlement Canyon Elementary, which opened in 2008.
Tooele City requires builders to provide the city with sufficient water rights for their projects. The amount of water is based upon engineering estimates of water consumption based upon the project type and size.
“We knew we needed to provide these water rights,” said Steve West. “The city allowed us to combine both projects so we could acquire the water rights at the same time.”
The Tooele County School Board approved a formal process for advertising for water rights at their April 17 meeting, but purchasing water rights in the Tooele Valley is not an easy process.
In 1996, the Utah Division of Water Rights closed the Tooele Valley for all claims for new water rights, so all water rights in the Tooele Valley now have to be acquired from an existing water rights holder.
Water rights in Tooele Valley were further complicated in 2008 when the Division of Water Rights divided the valley into three zones, according to groundwater recharge flow. The western zone includes Grantsville City, the central zone includes Erda and most of Tooele City, and the eastern zone includes Lake Point and a portion of eastern Tooele City. The movement of water rights between the zones is restricted. No water right can be moved into the eastern zone, while a water right in the eastern zone may be moved to any of the other two zones. This policy made water rights in the eastern zone more expensive.
The two schools that need water rights are located in the central zone.
Water rights are also integrally tied to how the water is used. A water right may be designated for such uses as domestic, industrial, irrigation or stock watering.
An application to change the type of use of water rights may result in a change in the amount of water allowed to be used annually, because the type of use effects the amount of the water that recharges the aquifer from where the water was withdrawn.
All of these factors, including where the water comes from, where it will be used, and what it will be used for affect the price of water.
The Utah Water Exchange, a website that lists water rights for sale throughout Utah, currently lists water rights for sale in Erda at $5,000 for an acre foot and water rights in Lake Point at $10,000 per foot.
At that price range, the school district may have to pay between $132,500 and $265,000 for 26.5 acre feet of water, assuming that the advertised water is culinary water that can be used on the southeast part of Tooele City.
The district has hired Rod Mills, and engineer with Ensign Engineering with 30 years experience in water rights, to help prepare the request for proposals and evaluate the proposals that are returned.
The school district anticipated the need to buy water rights when they bonded for the new buildings.
“We have should have enough money left over in the bond accounts for the schools to cover the cost of the water,” Terry Linares, Tooele County School District superintendent, told the school board during their April 17 meeting.