Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

January 24, 2017
Taking a stand

Rep. Merrill Nelson’s bill to stop SITLA’s ‘water grab’ is applauded 

He may face an uphill fight, but one local legislator wants to make sure agricultural water users in Rush Valley don’t get hurt by a state agency’s plan to someday develop its land there for homes and business.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, announced last week (see related story on Page A3 in the Jan. 17 edition) he will introduce a bill during the current Utah Legislative session that if passed will keep the State Institutional and Trust Lands Administration from “grabbing” 6,000 acre-feet of underground water per year in Rush Valley.

You may recall SITLA announced in October 2015 it had filed an application with the Utah Division of Water Rights for 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 has proposed to drill 26 wells.

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons. SITLA’s total request is 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. It’s also more water than what Grantsville City uses yearly to serve its 10,000 citizens and business district.

What does SITLA want to do with that water for two vast tracts of trust land between Stockton, Tooele Army Depot South Area, St. John and South Mountain? The agency may pursue future industrial, commercial and residential development there. The water rights application, according to SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy, is to “see if we could at least position ourselves for such future opportunity. What we’re doing is no different than what any other prudent landowner would do.”

Expectedly, the announcement triggered loud blowback, which became thunderous during public hearings in May 2016. More than 60 local residents and officials attended to protest SITLA’s water application. Most who spoke declared what the state agency wants to do is tantamount to stealing water from Rush Valley residents.

Nelson also spoke during the hearing and left no doubt what he thinks about the agency. He said SITLA’s actions would handcuff all available water, and residents should have first, and equal, rights to any untapped water in the valley.

“As a legislator, it was not my legislative intent, from my perspective, that a state agency would compete with state residents for a limited and precious resource that threatens their very existence in Rush Valley,” he said. “That’s not the role of the state. That’s not the role of SITLA.”

Now Nelson has put those words into action with a new bill he has called, “Public Water Supplier Modifications.” He said the bill’s intent is to prevent SITLA from qualifying as a public water supplier, which will stop the agency from acquiring water rights from Rush Valley’s aquifer.

When SITLA first announced its water development plans for Rush Valley, we joined the chorus of opposition, calling it an act of arrogance that needs to be stopped. Nelson’s proposed bill to stop SITLA is applauded and it is hoped his efforts are successful this legislative session.

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