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Mountain Regional Water investigated by the state

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Summit County’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District this week expects to begin a costly process to clarify with state officials how the county can divert water from the Weber River near Peoa.

The state Division of Water Rights has been investigating Mountain Regional since state officials recently received complaints that because of failing wells in South Summit, the county began digging trenches in the Weber River in order to pump enough water from Peoa to the gated Promontory subdivision in the Snyderville Basin.

The issue upset neighbors in eastern Summit County about four years ago, when the Summit County Commission proposed construction of the Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline from Peoa to Promontory.

"Mountain Regional’s exchange application (in 2002) drew approximately 36 protests, including a timely protest from [Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company]," a letter to Utah State Engineer Jerry Olds, from an attorney for Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company, states.

But, according to Andy Armstrong, general manager for Mountain Regional, the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company provides water to the private Summit Water Distribution Company, the county’s chief rival in the Snyderville Basin.

The Division of Water Rights gave permission to Mountain Regional to pump from wells drilled by the county near Peoa.

Water from the Weber River, however, cannot be directly diverted into the pipeline’s well field, said Ross Hansen, a Division of Water Rights engineer.

"We should have on a piece of paper exactly what is happening in the wells," Hansen said. "We think at the state engineer’s office that there is enough gray area with the situation that we have asked Mountain Regional to submit a new exchange application as a way to remedy that."

Expecting protests to be filed against the new application, Hansen said the state could deny the request from Mountain Regional to alter its water right.

"The new application will have to go through all of the typical processes that any change application has to go through," Hansen said. "If the application were denied, then we’d have a situation where somebody is diverting water without appropriate water rights."

John Flitton, an attorney for Summit Water Distribution Co., reported the alleged violations to the state in April.

"They breached the river channel," Flitton said in a recent interview.

A lawsuit filed by Summit Water Distribution in Third District Court June 30 asks for a jury to declare that Mountain Regional officials violated their permit by illegally diverting water from the river.

"I think if there are any technicalities that we can be held accountable for by Summit Water, we’ll be held accountable for it," said Armstrong, who rejects the charges made by Summit Water. "All along, I’ve said that we’re in a gray area with the state and we’re working with the state to clarify that."

Water from the Weber River is used to help charge Mountain Regional’s wells in Peoa.

But critics claim this requires a permit from the state to divert surface water, which Summit County hasn’t apparently obtained, Hansen said.

"The state doesn’t want there to be any ambiguities, so, the new application will indicate we’re applying for surface and groundwater," Armstrong said, insisting nobody’s downstream water rights are currently being impacted by the project. "Our application for a new exchange is just clarifying exactly where we’re pulling the water and how we’re taking the water."

The Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline uses neither deep wells nor a diversion of surface water, traditionally regulated by the Division of Water Rights, Armstrong said.

"We haven’t harmed any third parties downstream and we’re doing what we’re entitled to do," he said.


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