‘Water wars’ resurface in Summit County as tensions accompany proposed rate increase
If you go
What: Mountain Regional Water District budget public hearing
When: Approximately 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4
Where: Sheldon Richins Building, 1885 Ute Blvd.
The major water suppliers in western Summit County signed a landmark agreement in 2013 after years of fights and lawsuits that grew so heated it was sometimes referred to as the “water wars.”
The parties agreed at the time to link their systems so that surplus water could be shared between them and all of the available water in the Snyderville Basin would be used before suppliers would be forced to embark on a project to import water like a pipeline, which could cost more than $100 million.
Tensions are escalating once again, though, as the Mountain Regional Water District has proposed doubling what it charges the Summit Water Distribution Company for surplus water next year, from $1 million to $2 million. That cost includes a significant rate bump and a 40% increase in the amount of water Mountain Regional will provide.
Andy Garland, Summit Water’s general manager, said those costs would likely have to be passed on to ratepayers.
“We would have to find a way to come up with $400,000 to $500,000 we weren’t (planning to),” Garland said in an interview earlier this month.
Mountain Regional recommended the rate change at its administrative control board meeting Nov. 19, and the proposal was slated to go to the Summit County Council Wednesday for a public hearing and possible approval. Summit County created Mountain Regional in 2000 to improve water systems in the western part of the county and the County Council is its governing board, tasked with approving its budget.
Garland has asked in multiple public meetings for more data to support the rate change, and has lodged his opposition with Mountain Regional’s control board, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and the Summit County Council. Weber Basin acts as a middleman for the parties of the 2013 deal, holding the surplus water and doling it out to distributors.
At the Nov. 19 meeting when Mountain Regional recommended the new rate, a lawyer for Summit Water requested more information about the basis for the recommendation for the rate increase.
“It better be numerically based, or you’ve got a legal problem,” said the attorney, Scott Lilja. “If you’d like to have a real discussion about it, we would love to know the basis for this analysis, and we’d love to give you feedback and have a real discussion about it.”
Scott Morrison, Mountain Regional’s general manager, said the district decided to change its policy after more than a year of study so that the wholesale rate won’t be any lower than the lowest cost paid by retail customers.
“It’s the last water we produce, it’s the toughest water we produce. It leads to increased stress on our system,” Morrison said in an interview earlier this month. “Mountain Regional owns all the operational risk for delivering water for anything that might go wrong. Summit (Water) just pays the bill and gets the water at the connection.”
He added that the current rate it charges Summit Water doesn’t appropriately reflect the district’s expenses. The increase is about equity for Mountain Regional’s customers, Morrison said.
“Mountain Regional does not want to subsidize Summit’s customers,” he said.
The Summit Water Distribution Company serves between 2,500-3,000 ratepayers, Garland said. Its service area ranges from Parleys Summit to the Trailside neighborhood and customers include properties in Canyons Village, residents of Jeremy Ranch and the Utah Olympic Park, according to its website.
Mountain Regional has about 4,300 connections, Morrison said, and includes Promontory, Summit Park, Silver Springs, The Colony and the Old Ranch Road neighborhood.
In 2019, Summit Water received 800 acre-feet of surplus water from Mountain Regional via Weber Basin. Part of the 2013 deal is that the parties have to predict annually how much water they are going to use over the next five years, Garland said. Thinking development in Canyons Village would be further along, Summit Water requested an additional 300 acre-feet of water years ago — water Garland said it does not actually need.
Morrison explained that, when the request was made, Mountain Regional was acting as the provider of last resort in the Snyderville Basin; it was the only company capable of adding that surplus water to the system. If it had refused, it could have triggered the costly water importation project.
“When Summit Water showed this demand — the additional 300 acre-feet — Mountain Regional saw that as, either we say yes, we believe our system can produce it and … we avoid water importation cost for the whole community, or we say no and the whole community sees pretty expensive water rates,” Morrison said.
Park City Municipal has recently committed to adding surplus water to the system starting next year, allowing Mountain Regional to provide less. Park City will charge customers $8.85 per 1,000 gallons of surplus water. Mountain Regional’s current rate is $4.08 per 1,000 gallons, and it proposes increasing it to $6.40 per 1,000 gallons.
Morrison said the water importation project could likely be put off for many years, largely as a result of Park City’s $77 million 3Kings water treatment plant project that is planned to treat mine tunnel water.
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