Letter to the Editor: Iron County needs to make its No. 1 priority water

This June 2013 photo gives a northward view of Wah Wah Valley taken from the location of a test well visted by Cedar City Councilman Paul Cozzens and others. Central Iron County Water Conservancy District has plans to import water to Iron County from both Wah Wah and Pine valleys in Southern Utah's west desert in the future. Utah, June 18, 2013 | Photo by Cedar City Councilman Paul Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News

OPINION – The following letter addressing water concerns in Iron County is submitted by Cedar City Councilman Paul Cozzens.

In this June 2013 photo Paul Cozzens cuts the cap off an existing well in Pine Valley to run a camera down to see the depth and quality of water in Wah Wah Valley, Southern Utah, June 18, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Paul Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News

Dear friends and constituents,

Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and Iron County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. This is good news; however, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge where water is concerned.

I just completed the first year of my second four-year term on the City Council.

I have had the privilege the last five years to serve as a board member on the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District. The opportunity to serve in this capacity has been a great learning experience for me. Due to this assignment and my position on the Cedar City Council, I feel it necessary to give you a report on a few things that have been on my mind.

Many of you are already aware of the serious challenges we face regarding our water needs in this valley.

Read more: Overappropriation of water rights threatens Iron County

The state water engineer and other experts have determined that the annual safe yield is about 21,000-acre feet. However, we (municipalities, agriculture, CICWCD and private) are depleting about 28,000-acre feet, creating a deficit of about 7,000 acre-feet per year.

This 2016 photo shows one of eight test wells drilled by Gardner Drilling in the Pine Valley west desert area of Southern Utah. The Central Iron County Water Conservancy District is planning to import water from this area to Iron County in the future. Southern Utah, fall 2016 | Photo by Paul Monroe general manager of the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District, courtesy of board member Paul Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News

The state water engineer is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring these situations, protecting this precious natural resource and ensuring that the water supply is sustainable. He traveled to Cedar City twice in 2016 and met with the public to discuss the need for our basin’s groundwater management plan.

Recently, in response to a request from the state engineer, he has recommended that the water users in the valley  form a Groundwater Management Plan Committee. The 10 members of the committee will be meeting monthly in an effort to solve some of our water challenges and help prevent the loss of personal water rights.

In our first meeting, we discussed many issues, including importing water, water conservation, unused water rights (not factored in), future growth and recharge projects. If we don’t solve this problem, the state engineer will be forced to begin reducing water rights until a balanced equilibrium is reached in the aquifer.

This means that if you had water flowing into a 55-gallon barrel full of holes (with each hole representing a water right), as the water drops, you would not lose that right, but the flow to holes at the top of the barrel would cease sooner than those with higher priority rights at the bottom.

A large percentage of the city’s water rights would become junior and could become unusable in the future. In today’s market the value of that water is tens of millions of dollars. Please be aware that the CICWCD; the municipalities of Enoch, Cedar City and Kanarraville; Iron County; and agriculture users are taking this seriously.

Cedar City has been successfully recharging about 1,800 acre-feet of water near the airport for the past ten years and is currently looking at options which involve putting the 2,600 acre-feet of effluent from the wastewater treatment plant to better use through agriculture and gravel pit recharge. These projects are expensive and we have limited funds, but it is critical that we solve these challenges.

This June 2013 photo shows a test well run by Central Iron County Water Conservancy District in Wah Wah Valley. Southern Utah, June 18, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Cedar City Councilman Paul Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News

Last year, the CICWCD successfully completed a recharge project in Enoch and are working on another project near Quichapa Lake where the water is largely wasted because the layer of clay under the lake prevents water from recharging into the aquifer and is wasted through evaporation. Efforts have been made in the past to reclaim this water. However, once the water reaches the lake, it becomes so contaminated it can’t be pumped to another area and used for recharge.

Currently, we are working on a new diversion structure near Quichapa Lake which will divert excess water before it hits the lake. The water will then be channeled northwest, under state Route 56, and pumped to an area of land that has excellent percolation qualities. This is an exciting venture due to the fact that this is the area of extraction for the lion’s share of Cedar City’s water and is the aquifer most critically in decline. These recharge efforts are critical because they will help tremendously in bringing our aquifer into balance.

Another project being considered is to import water from the west desert valleys of Wah Wah and Pine (west of Milford). The state engineer has approved portions of our filings, and we are working to import up to 12,000 acre-feet from Wah Wah and 15,000 acre-feet from Pine Valley.

This long-term project comes with a price tag of about $250 million (a little over half of what the Lake Powell pipeline would have cost), but is critical for the future growth and sustainability of our valley. Conservation projects by the Iron County School District, Cedar City Corporation, CICWCD, and private efforts have been very positive as well. However, much more can and should be done.

In this June 18, 2013, photo an existing well is being test pumped, Wah Wah Valley, Southern Utah, June 18, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Paul Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News

In Cedar City, we are currently going through the process to create a parks and recreation master plan and are soliciting input from our citizens to determine priorities. Some of the venues being considered are high ticket items that I am struggling to even discuss as we wrangle with the issue of water in our county.

I believe water has to be our first priority.

In order to do that, we have to distinguish between needs and wants. We also have to realize that  taxpayers’ money is not endless, and we need to find more ways to create opportunities for private and public partnerships that will allow us to have parks and recreational activities and venues without having to take from resources that are currently needed elsewhere.

I’m open to any additional ideas you may have. Please don’t hesitate to call me or email me at [email protected] if you would like to discuss this important issue.

Submitted by Paul Cozzens, Cedar City councilman, CICWCD Board member, GMP Committee member.

Ed. note: Water is typically measured in acre-feet, referring to the volume of water that would cover 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot. Put another way, the Water Education Foundation describes 1 acre-foot as equaling about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field, 1 foot deep.

Updated 11:30 a.m. with additional photos.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.

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Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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