Residents of Rush Valley have to be breathing a guarded sigh of relief now that water deep below their homes and farms may no longer be threatened by a state agency’s intent to someday use the water for future residential and commercial development.
As reported on the front page in last Tuesday’s edition, the state engineer did approve applications from the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration for water rights in Rush Valley — but thankfully at a far less amount than what SITLA asked for.
In October 2015, SITLA filed four applications with the Utah Division of Water Rights totaling 6,000 acre-feet of water per year from aquifers underneath 19,000 acres of trust land in northern Rush Valley. To pump that much water, SITLA had proposed to drill 26 wells.
An acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons. SITLA’s total request was equivalent to nearly 2 billion gallons per year, or about 2,600 swimming pools the size of Energy Solutions’ Aquatic Center at Deseret Peak Complex.
SITLA’s intended use for all that water was to supply future industrial, commercial and residential development on trust land between Stockton, Tooele Army Depot South Area, St. John and South Mountain. After filing the applications, a SITLA official said the move was to position the agency for “future opportunity” and was “no different than what any other prudent landowner would do.”
Predictably, SITLA’s action triggered an outcry of protest from Rush Valley residents and area officials. That outcry turned into hard blowback at public hearings held in May 2016. And in that blowback was a common theme: SITLA’s applications were tantamount to stealing water from Rush Valley.
Evidently, State Engineer Kent Jones heard the blowback, or at least, heard about it. In late Aug. 2017, he approved SITLA’s four water applications — but at only 4.73 acre-feet per year, which is consistent with current water policy and water rights applications for Rush Valley.
In his decision, Jones also required the amount of water granted to SITLA be metered and reported annually, and be fully developed and used for municipal use within five years of the four applications’ approval. If SITLA fails to meet that timeline, it has to reapply.
SITLA wants Jones to reconsider his decision, which is allowable, and which he has agreed to do. SITLA’s key counterpoints hang on a 2011 United States Geological Survey study that showed 13,900 acre-feet of water is lost through evaporation from soil and plants each year in northern Rush Valley, with another 610 acre-feet from well discharge.
When SITLA filed the applications in Oct. 2015, Tooele County was in deep drought after consecutive years of low precipitation and snowfall. We called it then an arrogant water grab by a state agency that should be denied. We still do. Although the county is no longer in deep drought, it is still ranked as abnormally dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
But drought or no drought, it is hoped the state engineer will render the same decision after the reconsideration process. SITLA’s want of 6,000 acre-feet of water per year is a bad deal for Rush Valley residents.