GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT PLAN
THIRD PUBLIC MEETING
JANUARY 10, 2008
This meeting is a continuation of the Groundwater Management Planning process initiated with two earlier public meetings held on May 13 and August 6, 2007. The planning process is mandated and guided by statute at § 73-5-15, Utah Code Annotated. Notice of the meeting was provided in a manner consistent with that described for prior meetings.
The meeting was held in the Jay O. Holt Memorial Auditorium at Enterprise High School, 565 South 200 East in Enterprise, Utah. The meeting began at 3:00 PM with State Engineer Jerry D. Olds welcoming those in attendance and noting that attendance roll sign-in sheets were being distributed throughout the auditorium. Mr. Olds summarized the agenda for the meeting and stated that a handout would be distributed at the conclusion of the meeting. Relevant materials regarding this meeting and the larger planning process will be posted on the Division of Water Rights’ website. See:
Mr. Olds briefly reviewed the items which had been addressed at the prior meeting on August 6, 2007, emphasizing that the intent of the contemplated Groundwater Management Plan (GWMP) is to “stabilize” groundwater levels, not to restore the groundwater to a historical level. He noted that comments received after the prior meeting, along with responses from the Division of Water Rights (“Division”), are posted on the Division’s website and that a handout of those materials would be distributed after this meeting. He briefly addressed five specific comments/questions from the prior meeting. The referenced document can be viewed at:
Activities in pursuit of GWMP development occurring since the August meeting were described, including:
Although no irrevocable commitments have come from these activities, they have been useful in identifying issues and concerns that deserve consideration as the planning process moves forward.
Mr. Olds introduced Dr. John Keith, Professor of Economics from Utah State University. Dr. Keith has succeeded Dr. Steve Vickner, previously from U.S.U., in conducting an analysis of the potential economic impacts that might result from implementation of a GWMP. Dr. Keith presented a series of calculations designed to demonstrate agricultural land value in terms of the present value of the income stream the land would be expected to produce under given assumptions. It was acknowledged that the crop values and production costs utilized are likely not consistent with current figures, but because such figures are relatively volatile, long-term averages generally produce more reliable forecast estimates.
Dr. Keith has also consulted with lending agencies regarding estimates of land values against which they will issue loans. Based on available data and calculations, it was concluded that the current value of irrigated land in the subject area is around $3,000 to $3,500 per acre; land without water rights is estimated to be worth $250 to $500 per acre. Thus, the loss of water rights for land would represent a reduction in present value of approximately $3,000 per acre. The longer the removal of irrigation rights from land can be postponed, the less the present value loss will be.
Due to the nature of the available data, Dr. Keith noted that it is not possible to accurately estimate impacts at a level smaller than the Washington County – Iron County region.
Several attendees questioned or commented on the economic impact analysis, suggesting that regional modeling dilutes or under-represents the reality of probable local impacts. Dr. Keith further explained the limitations of currently available data and the general operation of the economic “Input – Output” model being used; he assented to review other available data if such could be provided and was compatible with modeling criteria. He pointed out that most “purchases” are made outside the local area and, thus, the multiplier effects would tend to be more regional than local.
Generally, those commenting questioned the results of the analysis, asserting that it was not consistent with their perceptions of the probable impacts and failed to take account of the appreciation anticipated in the market value of land. The slides presented by Dr. Keith will be available for review and critique at the Division’s website.
Following Dr. Keith’s presentation, James Greer, an engineer with the Division, outlined the elements of a proposed GWMP, again emphasizing that the plan objectives are to stabilize groundwater levels and limit depletions to safe yield.
First, a brief discussion was given regarding the need for an effective groundwater monitoring/metering program to enable a valid evaluation of progress being made. This program may include a number of elements such as periodic acreage surveys, well metering, expanded groundwater monitoring sites, etc. Although no design parameters have been established, there is a critical need to collect water use data as the plan is implemented. Obviously, the most critical measurement will be actual groundwater levels as they may change over the period of plan implementation.
Second, Mr. Greer presented a draft phased implementation schedule covering an implementation period of 90 years. The first phase would cover 40 years in two 20-year increments with a net reduction of 5% of hydrologic depletion in each increment; the second phase would consist of 30 years comprised of three 10-year increments with a net reduction of 5% of hydrologic depletion in each increment; the final phase of 20 years would consist of two 10-year increments with a net reduction of 10% of hydrologic depletion in each increment. Fully implemented over 90 years, the cumulative reduction would be 45%.
The reduction contemplated for each time increment is to be accomplished by the end date of each period, not to be imposed at the start date. For example, the 5% reduction for the first period is the goal for the end of the first 20-year increment; the plan would not mandate an immediate 5% reduction in depletion at the onset of the plan.
It was also emphasized that the target reductions in hydrologic depletion could potentially be accomplished through a number of measures (e.g., increased efficiency, change in cropping patterns) in addition to a direct reduction in irrigated acreage. Long-term climate changes could also impact groundwater levels.
Mr. Greer explained that as the plan progresses and the metering/monitoring data are evaluated, the adaptive management aspect of the GWMP would enable the adoption of adjustments as justified or necessary to achieve targeted reductions. If justified by the data (as evidenced by the achievement of groundwater stabilization), the plan would be subject to cessation at any point in time.
The role and nature of voluntary arrangements among groups of water users was addressed. Such arrangements are authorized by statute to operate outside the GWMP, but as a tool in achieving the stated objectives of the plan. Water users participating in a voluntary arrangement could essentially “pool” their water rights and share the impacts of reductions among their members. Such arrangements could allow persons with later-priority domestic (in-house) rights to continue that use by termination of another use not subject to current reduction levels.
Naturally, those participating in such arrangements would contribute financially or otherwise toward the operation of the pool. Mr. Olds specifically noted that such groups could address the issue of stabilizing ground removed from irrigation to provide mitigation of wind erosion. Existing statutes do not authorize the State Engineer to specifically address this issue nor to require the owner of such land to take protective or restorative measures.
Voluntary arrangements of the type contemplated by statute could take any number of forms, ranging from an agreement between two persons to creation of an area-wide special water district established to manage and fund the distribution of water rights affected by the GWMP. However, the current statute states that participation in such arrangements is to be voluntary and limited to the rights of those who choose to participate.
Mr. Greer concluded his prepared presentation by noting that a GWMP could include a number of other provisions related to, for example, management of geothermal resources, issues of land subsidence or the adoption of special appropriation policies (limitations on change applications, etc.).
Mr. Olds and Mr. Greer opened the meeting to questions and comments from those in attendance and also encouraged the submission of written comments at a later date. In response to some of the questions/comments, the following points were made:
Mr. Olds concluded the meeting by noting that input from the public has been and will be given serious consideration as the planning process moves forward. The Division especially seeks comments regarding perceived errors or oversights in the data or assumptions being utilized, or in the nature of the planning process being employed. At the request of those in attendance, the date for submission of written comments was set at April 30, 2008.
The meeting concluded at approximately 5:15 PM.