Decision in water feud looms
Summit County officials want a judge in 3rd District Court in Snyderville to delay his decision in a fight about water until the state’s water rights chief rules in the dispute.
At issue is whether the bank of the Weber River was breached illegally when the county’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District began taking water from the river two years ago.
Courthouse officials claim their permit from the state allows them to take surface and groundwater near Peoa and the stream bank was damaged unintentionally when the trenches were dug near their Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline.
"The intent of the Lost Creek Canyon project was to get water out of the river," according to Mountain Regional Water spokesman Doug Evans.
But the pipeline permit only allows the county to pump from underground aquifers and not directly from the river, critics say.
State Engineer Jerry Olds is expected to rule on the case within a month.
Meanwhile, on Monday the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company and Summit Water Distribution Company asked Judge Bruce Lubeck to declare that Mountain Regional has been in violation of its permit since the trenches were dug.
"They say that by mistake they cut into the river," said Mark Glick, an attorney for Summit Water Distribution Co., about the county’s position in the case. "Either you had the right to do it and you cut into the river, or you didn’t have a right to do it and you cut into the river by mistake. It can’t be both at the same time."
Water rights equate to a business license for a water provider, Glick said.
"If you let them operate without their business license and they take a customer from us, we’re certainly harmed," Glick said for Summit Water Distribution Co.
But the county hasn’t taken water through the pipeline that it doesn’t own, said Mountain Regional chief Andy Armstrong who added that the county leases the water for around $600,000 per year.
Because Summit Water Distribution Co. and the canal operator weren’t damaged by the diversion, the groups lack standing to sue the county because the stream bank was breached, he said.
"How we take it, via surface or groundwater, would only have impact for someone who sat between us and a reservoir, and there are no other users between us and (Rockport) reservoir," Armstrong explained.
Summit County’s request that Lubeck wait to rule until a decision is issued by the state should be granted, he said.
"We’re hoping that he recognizes that we’re taking care of this situation administratively and it probably wouldn’t be prudent for the court to be proceeding until they have some understanding of how the state took care of it," Armstrong said, adding, "that’s where it belongs more so than a court of law, but that’s never stopped Summit Water from filing a lot of litigation."
Since Mountain Regional formed several years ago the county has been sued several times by Summit Water Distribution Co.
"They file it and they get a lot of very good press but they don’t do all that well when we go to court," Armstrong said. "There’s never been a question of if we have the right to the water. The question is, how we can take that water and that’s what we’re trying to get cleared up."
Still, Glick says by taking the water illegally from the river Summit County impacted his client’s ability to compete in the Snyderville water market.
"You’re not allowed to have unfair advantages because you’re the government," he said. "You’ve got to wonder if they understand that when you are involved in a competitive market you don’t get to just do what you want as a local government."
Though opponents have criticized the county for alleging taking water from the river for the gated Promontory golf community, Armstrong says, "not a drop of it is going to a golf course (in the winter.)"
"That water is for all of our customers," he said, adding, "if they were to say, you need to turn off the tap until this is all straightened out, it would have pretty nasty consequences for the Basin as a whole."
This week Lubeck could rule on whether to delay decisions in the case until the state engineer has ruled.
"If I grant the (county’s) motion to stay we’ll await the engineer’s decision," the judge said.
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The Jordanelle Reservoir is at about 67% of its capacity, not the lowest its been but a level that officials say is concerning.