Utah Division of Water Rights

Beryl–Enterprise Area Groundwater Management Plan First Meeting Public Comments Summary And Agency Responses

Revised: June 8, 2007

Announcement Letter

Below is a compiled list of submitted questions and comments with agency responses from the first public meeting held May 13, 2007.


  Q1: When will the management plan be implemented?
  A1: There are presently too many undefined issues to fix a completion date with any certainty. Based on our present level of knowledge, we anticipate this may be a “several-year” process with additional public meetings and integration.
  Q2: Will there be any compensation to water users for water rights that are in excess of the determined safe yield or will the state assume any financial responsibility?
  A2: The groundwater management plan statute does not give authority or the resources to provide compensation to water users who are not entitled to water because of the priority of their rights. This is an issue that can only be addressed by the Utah Legislature.
  Q3: What is the safe yield of the Aquifer?
  A3: The safe yield has not yet been determined.
  Q4: The economic impact of the local community and long term impact need to be carefully studied and addressed in the plan. How will a regional economic model be sufficiently sensitive to properly portray local area impacts?
  A4: Although it may appear that the local economy is being neglected by a county level study, there are benefits to the local area by including the entire region in the economic impact study. The impacts of regulating groundwater in the local area have impacts that range wider than just the local area. By expanding the study to the county and the region level, those impacts can be identified, and considered as a factor in implementing the groundwater management plan. These impacts would be missed if the study were limited to the local area only. Even though it covers a broad area – the economic study will not neglect the impacts that happen locally. It may be possible to estimate the portion of secondary impacts in the Beryl-Enterprise area and make an estimation of the local secondary impacts, although these estimates depend on assumptions about local vs. county (regional) purchasing patterns.
  Q5: Should the State let the water users develop a plan themselves and how much time can be provided for them to do so?
  A5: Water users can agree to participate in a voluntary arrangement for managing groundwater withdrawals; however, a voluntary arrangement is not a groundwater management plan. It is an arrangement among water users as to how they will manage their water rights cooperatively. A voluntary arrangement does not establish safe yields, it does not establish the regulation in water rights that must be implemented to achieve safe yield levels, and it does not establish the timing of the regulations. The major purpose for an arrangement is to allow water users to voluntarily agree to form groups that can distribute withdrawals within the group on factors other than priority date. The Escalante Water Users Association has already begun working on a voluntary agreement. We appreciate the time and effort the Escalante Water Users Association has put into drafting an agreement and we are reviewing the proposal. As the management plan continues to be developed we hope that you the water users will continue to be thinking and working towards helping find the best solution.
  Q6: It was reported that the hydrology estimates are based on a 1982 study. Do advances in technology and the critical nature of this data constitute a need for an updated study?
  A6: The study completed in 1982 (Hydrology Of The Beryl-Enterprise Area, Escalante Desert, Utah, With Emphasis On Ground Water; With A Section On Surface Water) does present a reasonable hydrological estimate of the water budget for the area. More recent data, which will be presented at upcoming meetings, has been collected that will add to this data and information. At this time, we are not planning on commissioning a new groundwater study in the area.
  Q7: How will municipal, industrial, mining, irrigation, and domestic rights be handled under a management plan?
  A7: The legislation creating §73-5-15 included no special provisions or exemptions for nature of use of the affected water rights. All water rights will be managed along with any other water right in accord with their respective priority date.
  Q8: Can the irrigation duty be lowered and still allow users to irrigate the same acreage?
  A8: To answer this question I believe a discussion on diversion, depletion, and duty is warranted. Diversion is the amount of water for a given water right that can be removed from its natural source and applied to a beneficial use. Depletion is the portion of water withdrawn from its natural source that is consumed by the beneficial use(s) and does not return to the natural hydrologic system. The duty is the quantity of water required to satisfy the irrigation water requirements in a given area; based on the irrigation requirements of flood irrigated alfalfa (Alfalfa is used because it represents the crop with the highest water requirement in most areas). For example, in the Escalante Valley area an irrigator is allowed to divert a duty of up to 4 acre feet of water per acre of land. About 2.6 acre-feet of water is consumed (depleted) to grow an acre of alfalfa. Thus, 1.4 acre-feet of water potentially returns to the hydrologic system through seepage and deep percolation. The net loss to the system is the water consumed in the growing of crops (depletion), not the duty or diversion. The management plan will need to ensure that the depletion of water from the system does not exceed the safe yield limits. Thus, water users must reduce depletion, not necessary the duty. As irrigation efficiency is increased the duty can be reduced because less water is required to supply the water to the crop; however, increasing efficiency does not decrease depletion and often results in an increase in total depletion. Inefficient irrigation systems often do not provide all the water required for optimum crop growth. As efficiency increases, more water can be supplied to meet the crop water demand. Without an increase in acreage, an efficient irrigation system generally depletes more water from the hydrologic system than an inefficient irrigation system because more water is made available for crop use.
  Q9: Are there areas within the management plan boundary that could or should be excluded from the plan because they are isolated from the main body of the aquifer or because certain wells have experienced an increase in water level?
  A9: At this time we do not feel that there are any areas within the boundary that are isolated from the main body of the aquifer that would warrant any exclusions from the plan.
  Q10: What is the purpose of the plan?
  A10: The purpose of a groundwater management plan is to: regulate groundwater withdrawals to safe yield; protect the physical integrity of the aquifer; protect water quality; and stabilize water levels.
  Q11: Will pumping from all water users be verified and assured that no illegal use is occurring?
  A11: The division has been tracking the water use within the valley for the past couple of years to insure that no water users are exceeding their water rights. We believe that the irrigation water uses are in compliance with their water rights. If you are aware of a water user that is using more than their water rights allows an enforcement referral can be submitted to our office. This form is on our website at http://www.waterrights.utah.gov/regulation/referral.pdf. After receiving comments and evaluating them we are just now moving forward with efforts to develop a plan, through a public process. As the plan is formalized it may require additional monitoring to implement the plan.
  Q12: Will the adopted plan be prudent and cautious?
  A12: We understand the critical nature and importance of this groundwater resource to the community. We are trying to produce the best solution to manage the resource with the least amount of impact to the individuals and the community. We will be deliberate and cautious as the plan is implemented.
  Q13: Does any reducing of water rights need to be addressed through a court action and can they be reduced without due process of law?
  A13: This is a very good question and one that was addressed by the Legislative Water Issues Task Force as they worked on the legislation for the groundwater management plans. Since a management plan may affect the rights of individuals, the formulation of the plan needs to be done in such a way to provide for due process. Under subsection 10 of 73-5-15, Groundwater Management Plan, the statute sets forth a procedure where any one who believes they are aggrieved by the plan may challenge it in the district court.
  Q14: What is the overall volume of the aquifer?
  A14: We have not made a determination of that figure, although there are some estimates available. Such a determination is not directly pertinent to calculation of safe yield, so that determination is not part of this process.
  Q15: Adjoining valleys also are over allocated and if ground water management plans are implemented in these other valleys will the combined regional effects to the economy from all these plans also be considered in this plan?
  A15: The statute does not specifically require this to be considered, however, we realize that economic hardships could be compounded as additional management plans are implemented. Thus, we may consider and evaluate this as ground water management plans in other valleys are developed.
  Q16: What about the deep, bedrock aquifer or “mine water”? Is it an isolated source?
  A16: Our current opinion is that we are dealing with an integrated hydrologic system and the water that was historically pumped to dewater the silver mine is hydrologically connected to the basin fill aquifer in the alluvium (sand/gravel) of the valley.
  Q17: Will retired acreage be reseeded to native vegetation before water is shut off?
  A17: The State Engineer agrees that this is a serious concern. Recommendations regarding the transition from irrigated ground to non-irrigated ground could certainly be addressed in the groundwater management plan and allowances provide for. However, the actual transition practice will be up to the individual water user. There currently is no authority in the statute for the State Engineer to require or to regulate transition practices. Under present conditions, if someone sold irrigation water and transferred it off their land, the State Engineer does not have the authority to require reseeding or other erosion control measures.
  Q18: Will the plan allow for a gradual implementation to provide time for the economy to adjust?
  A18: Yes. However, the period over which pumping is reduced depends more on social considerations that economic ones. Economic models of optimal groundwater extraction usually indicate that the least costly approach to reaching the “optimal” state is the fastest approach. Thus, by imposing on the model that not reaching safe yield is a greater cost than the impact from reducing acreage, the model would then most likely indicate that a fast implementation is the most optimal. However, social considerations may lead to slower implementation of pumping reductions. Thus, the timing of the reductions is more likely to be based on other criteria, in addition to economics.
  Q19: How is adopting a plan beneficial to the public?
  A19: The aquifer is not an unlimited resource. A groundwater management plan provides an orderly process for adjusting the water use in the area over time to a sustainable level so the community can continue without traumatic disruption. Without a groundwater management plan, there is real danger of exhausting or reaching the limits of the water resource without adequate planning and preparation that would create a traumatic disruption and perhaps a collapse of the community.
  Q20: How will the available water be distributed under a management plan?
  A20: The state engineer shall regulate groundwater rights in that groundwater basin based on the priority date of the water rights under the groundwater management plan, unless a voluntary arrangement exists that would allow a group of water user subscribing to the arrangement to distribute the water allocated to the group of subscribers according to other agreed criteria.
  Q21: Isn't this a statewide problem and if so why are we focusing on Beryl-Enterprise?
  A21: This is a statewide problem and 10 management plans have been developed and implemented around the State. The Beryl-Enterprise area is the first plan to be considered under the new guidelines set forth in statute 73-5-15.
  Q22: How much of this concern is a result from the drought?
  A22: Drought conditions help to emphasize the problem, but a groundwater management plan is being developed in this area because it is over appropriated and the water use needs to be regulated.
  Q23: Will lands irrigated by surface water rights be distinguished and accounted for separately from lands irrigated by groundwater.
  A23: Yes, we are currently working with the water users to help develop this data.