State sides with county in water fight
Attorneys who represent Summit County’s largest competitor in the Snyderville Basin water market weren’t able to convince state officials the government broke the law by pumping surface water from the Weber River to a gated subdivision near Park City.
Siding with the county, Utah State Engineer Jerry Olds, the state’s top water rights official, approved a permit for the county’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District to take both surface and groundwater from the Weber River through its Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline in Peoa.
"Mountain Regional Water complied with the previous exchange application and this approval supports our assertion that Mountain Regional Water complied with [Olds’] previous decision," according to Andy Armstrong, general manager of Mountain Regional.
But the county’s critics, like Summit Water Distribution Company President Hy Saunders, claimed government officials broke the law when they dug trenches in the river in 2005 so more water would flow into nearby wells owned by the county.
At issue was whether the county acted outside the scope of its permit from the Office of the Utah State Engineer by diverting surface water from the river when the trenching began.
"It was unfortunate that politics got in the way," Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer said Thursday.
Protests from the Weber River Water Users Association, Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company and the private Summit Water Distribution Company all but accused county officials of stealing water from the river to irrigate private golf courses at Promontory.
The May 11 decision from Olds, however, confirmed that Mountain Regional never "stole" a drop of water from the river, Armstrong says.
"The purpose of this (permit) is to update and clarify the location, source and nature of the points of diversion included in the previous exchange application. There will be no additional water diverted from the river system under this application than what has already been approved by the [state engineer]," Olds’ order states.
Meanwhile, importing water into western Summit County is critical to ensure that citizens can continue to drink, wash clothes and irrigate their lawns. But the only project currently bringing more water into western Summit County is the Lost Creek Canyon Pipeline.
The pipeline reduces Mountain Regional’s dependence on more expensive water in the Snyderville Basin and provides customers a dependable source in case of a drought or water emergency, according to Armstrong.
"I feel this is validation that we were complying with our previous exchange and this approval supports our assertions," Armstrong said in a telephone interview Thursday.
"Mountain Regional is developing water properly and we have legitimate water rights and no water has been stolen and no water rights have been negatively impacted."
Summit Water’s accusations that county officials had taken water illegally apparently were false.
"It speaks to a lot of the inflammatory allegations that were bounced around," Armstrong said about the decision. "We did receive the approvals from both the feds and the state and we were operating in a prudent manner."
State officials objectively investigated the case, he insists.
"The state has been very, very objective. And I think that everybody is just being good public servants," Armstrong said. "We’re complying with the law."
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Arlene Loble served as the Park City manager in the 1980s, a pivotal period that prepared the community for the boom years that would follow in the 1990s. Loble, who recently died, is credited with introducing a level of professionalism to the municipal government that was needed amid the growth challenges.