Washington County wants to access underground water but first needs to confirm it’s actually there – St George News

Washington County wants to access underground water but first needs to confirm it’s actually there – St George News

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ST. GEORGE — Could untapped aquifers become a new source of water for Washington County’s growing population? To find out, the county water district has applied to the state for the rights to the underground water so it can explore the feasibility of the potential water source.

File photo, Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George, Utah, Aug. 3, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. Georg News

The Washington County Water Conservancy District submitted an application for the water rights to the state, along with plans for 18 wells to be drilled along the Hurricane fault line. It is proposed by the district to divert 12,900 acre-feet of water from these aquifers annually into Sand Hollow Reservoir.

County water managers believe there could be water along the fault line due to data from two studies the water district has conducted, Zach Renstrom, the water district’s general manager, said. These studies were triggered by a desire to find out where water meant to be stored in the old Ash Creek Reservoir seeps away to, he said.

If the water rights are granted, it will allow the water district to determine whether there actually is water to draw from, and if so, if it’s financially feasible to retrieve.

“This is going to be a lengthy process, and a discussion that’s going to have to be had,” Renstrom said. “And we may get a water right, but it may be that it’s just so astronomically expensive, that it doesn’t make sense to drill down that deep and pump it. So there’s still a lot of variables that need to be answered.”

A map detailing the general location of the deep well sites proposed by the Washington County Water Conservancy District | Map graphic courtesy of the Utah Division of Water Rights, St. George News | Click image to enlarge

The proposed wells could be 1,000-5,000 feet deep.

These variables have drawn 60-plus protests from myriad individuals, associations and other government agencies against the application.

Among the protesters is Mayor Betty Ann Gould of Kanarraville who wrote that the town worries deep wells will negatively impact the surface water supply its residents access.

“Our citizens are already using our precious groundwater for irrigation, municipal, domestic stock-watering and public recreation,” she wrote. “We treasure our natural environment. Pulling water away from our small, limit aquifers for a huge well field downgradient from us will injure our existing use.”

The mayor’s protests, along with others, claim there are no water rights left to grant as they are already appropriated to various users. The drilling of the deep wells and withdrawing water stands to interfere with those preexisting water rights, Gould and others wrote in their protests.

File photo, irrigation water being used in Washington City, Utah, July 2, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“That’s where we would have to prove that we would not affect anyone’s water,” said Renstrom, adding the burden of proof is on the water district to show that aquifers are isolated and not connected to other water supplies.

According to the documents filed with the state, the 18 well sites the water district is applying for run along Interstate 15 in the northern part of Washington County and then along the Hurricane fault line toward the Utah-Arizona border.

Seven of the 18 wells are located on public lands, which has drawn the protests of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S Forest Service.

In a joint letter, the agencies said they appreciated the water district’s need to identify and secure new water sources for the county, yet they are concerned that the application with the state “is based on substantial conjecture regarding deep subsurface conditions and that there is insufficient information to determine if deep groundwater may be available for new uses.”

The agencies also noted they were not consulted by the water district prior to the application submission to the state. Any drilling on public lands would be prefaced by environmental studies and associated federal regulation, the agencies added.

File photo, the Washington County Water Conservancy District building, St. George, Utah, Aug. 23, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Southern Utah resident Lisa Rutherford, a local conservationist, also issued a protest letter. She asked whether aquifers the water district wanted to access drained into the Colorado River and how that would impact the application.

“If the aquifers do contain fresh potable water, the water is probably flowing south and emerging in springs in Arizona, tributary to the Colorado River,” Rutherford wrote. “What issues might this present under the Colorado River Compact?”

Local ranchers, water companies and other groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns lands near the area of the proposed wells, issued letters of protection over questions they want addressed prior to any approval from the Utah Division of Waver Resources.

While he considers some of the claims made by protesters to be “fluff,” there are others that are valid and fair, and need to be investigated, Renstrom said.

File photo, Sand Hollow Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, June 28, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“What is the hydrologic connection between those springs and some of those canyons in the Grand Canyon? I think that’s a fair question,” he said. “The state engineer’s going to have to have their experts review everything, and it’s just part of that whole entire public process, and I think it’s a good process. And, at no point in any way, any shape or any form, are we trying to steal anybody’s water.”

Searching for and securing new sources of water is a primary mission of the water district, Renstrom said, and the application for the groundwater is a part of that. This motivation is also manifest in the water district’s longtime pursuit of the Lake Powell Pipeline. It is a project the water district had hoped would be under construction by now, yet has been delayed due the protests of neighboring states that called for additional environment analysis to be done.

It is because of this delay that the district is now exploring the feasibility of potential groundwater use.

“We are basically looking at everything,” Renstrom said. “We’re pulling everything off the shelf, and looking at it, because we’re going to run into a crisis here fairly shortly if we don’t start developing more local (water) projects.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.



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