Gov. Gary Herbert announces water summit to help manage state's precious resource
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert announced Wednesday his plans to convene a Utah water summit in late October to refine the best long-term strategies to manage one of the state's most precious resources.
Four principles will lay the foundation in the state's efforts going forward — conservation, maintenance, planning and innovation, said Alan Matheson, the governor's environmental adviser.
"I think we all recognize water is a challenge in an arid state, and with projected population growth, it will get even more difficult," Matheson said.
Herbert announced the summit at the annual meeting of the Utah Water Users Association in St. George, where hundreds of people involved in water delivery, water management and water law meet to discuss the latest developments.
Matheson said the governor has tapped six experts who will partner with the state Division of Water Resources to host listening sessions at multiple locations throughout the state this summer.
Those experts are:
• Voneene Jorgensen, chairwoman of the Utah Water Users Association Board and general manager of the Bear River Water Conservancy District. Jorgensen has worked at the district since 1993 and has been its general manager since 2003. Her area of emphasis will be water conflicts and finding the right balance among competing demands.
• Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. Flint has been general manager for 13 years and in the water management industry for nearly 30 years. He will focus on the challenges of providing water for a growing population.
• Bob Morgan, who worked nearly two decades as the Utah state engineer tasked with overseeing the appropriation of Utah's water and adjudicating water rights. Morgan also served as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. He will focus on the role of the state and the state engineer in water resource issues.
• Tim Hawkes, executive director of the Utah Water Project of Trout Unlimited. Hawkes has a law degree and through the nonprofit conservation group deals frequently with water law and policy conflicts. His area of emphasis will be water and its value to recreation, tourism and the environment.
• Warren Peterson, a Delta resident who specializes in agriculture, land and water law. Peterson was on the Utah Water Financing Task Force and was a member and chairman of the Utah Board of Water Resources. His area of emphasis will be the conversation of water from agricultural use to meet needs of cities, residents and businesses and what impacts may result.
• Dennis Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. Strong began work with the division in 1975 as an engineer and has been director since 2006. He is a member of the Western States Water Council and multiple water-related panels. His focus will be the challenges and options behind financing Utah's water demands.
Matheson said the team of six will seek input from residents, political leaders, conservation groups and other special interest groups to develop recommendations to be aired at the water summit.
"We are going to be doubling our population in 30 to 40 years potentially," he said. "We need to take the reins today and take steps to ensure we have a long-range plan for that population without destroying the beautiful areas of the state that we all love."
The goal, Matheson added, is to avert potential shortages or conflicts in the future.
"We need to get out ahead of the curve," he said. "So far, we've been able to avoid any water management by crisis."
Later in the day, Herbert met with residents at two community forums in the tiny Snake Valley towns of Eskdale and Trout Creek.
The meetings follow discussions Herbert had this year with county officials from Tooele, Millard and Juab who are awaiting his decision on signing an agreement with Nevada over the sharing of water in Snake Valley.
A document that divvies up groundwater resources in Snake Valley between the two states has been in limbo for years. The valley straddles the border of both states and is a shared hydrologic basin.
While most of Snake Valley is within Utah borders, most of the precipitation that helps to replenish the groundwater falls in the mountains of Nevada and drains underground into Utah.
The Snake Valley groundwater controversy was stoked by the Southern Nevada Water Authority's desire to pump water within Nevada and convey it to Las Vegas via a pipeline.
Critics of the plan believe the water withdrawals are not sustainable and will compromise Utah's interests in the western desert region. SNWA has countered it has an obligation to develop water resources within Nevada to meet its future needs.
Matheson said Herbert has yet to reach a decision on signing the agreement and is still gathering information.
"He's trying to arrive at what is in the best long-term interests of Utah," Matheson said. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding about what the agreement does and does not do. The governor has been very clear that he prefer the pipeline not go in. It does not do anything for the residents of Utah."
Some proponents of signing the agreement have said it is preferable to have the water sharing and environmental protections in place and negotiated by the states rather than having a directive issued by a court.