River spat is headed to courtroom
June 13, 2007
The private Summit Water Distribution Co. has asked a 3rd District Court judge to throw out a decision against the company from Utah’s water rights chief that officials at the rival Mountain Regional Water Special Service District called a major victory.
A legal bombshell filed against Summit County-owned Mountain Regional Water on Monday begins the newest skirmish in legal wrangling that began when county officials dug trenches in the Weber River to divert more water into their wells.
"These diversion channels were constructed without state engineer approval and without approval of a required stream alteration permit," a 13-page complaint filed against the county by Summit Water attorney John Flitton states. "Too many times in the past both the Weber River commissioner and state engineer have over-looked water rights violations by Mountain Regional Water."
The new court filing accuses Utah State Engineer Jerry Olds, who oversees the state’s system of water rights, of failing to protect the stream near Peoa by allowing Summit County officials to legally access surface and groundwater from the Weber River in May.
But Mountain Regional Water chief Andy Armstrong insists the new complaint is "business as usual" for the litigious Summit Water Distribution Company.
"We’re not surprised," Armstrong said about the appeal. "We expected this much."
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Until last month, however, county officials had stolen water because they didn’t have a permit to take surface water from the stream, critics counter.
Olds shirked his statutory duties by allowing Mountain Regional Water and Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which both benefit economically from the arrangement, to determine whether enough water exists for surface and groundwater to be taken from the river, the lawsuit contends.
"This condition is contrary to the state engineer’s responsibility because it places the decision-making authority on the water right holder instead of the state engineer where such authority properly belongs," the appeal filed against Mountain Regional Water Special Service District states.
But because Weber Basin has failed to provide accurate accounting of its water rights near Rockport, the reservoir is "over-appropriated in its contracts already issued on the appropriated water rights," Flitton claims.
Releasing water from other sources to fill the deficit means water rights controlled by Summit Water Distribution Co. are interfered with, Flitton claims.
According to the lawyer, "there are significant concerns regarding the availability of water supply in Smith and Morehouse reservoir," which provides headwaters for the Weber River in the Uinta Mountains.
Other defendants named in the June 11 case include: Olds, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, Weber River Water Users Association and Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company.
To build the Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline from Peoa to Promontory, Summit County obtained water rights to pump groundwater from the Weber River into shallow wells near Rockport reservoir to deliver to the Snyderville Basin.
At issue is whether the state permit allowed county officials to begin taking surface water directly from the river in 2005.
Flitton characterized the county’s new permit issued by Olds May 11 as "an after-the-fact blessing for diversion channels that were illegally cut into the Weber River adjacent to the Lost Creek Canyon [well field]."
The county’s former arrangement "restricted water diversions to underground water supplies and does not provide the right to divert water directly to the Weber River," the June 11 complaint states.
Flitton, who represents the county’s largest competitor in the Basin water market, wasn’t immediately available to comment about the case.