Sportsmen are asking water officials to buy agricultural water and promote culinary water conservation to preserve a 6-mile-long fishery on the Provo River.
Buying or leasing agricultural water would cost millions of dollars, according to Jack Gardner of the Provo River Water Users Association; and conservation requirements are already in force, said officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and the several municipal water agencies that use Central Utah Project water stored in Deer Creek Reservoir.But both the sportsmen and the water users have agreed to negotiate and plan to meet Monday, the same day the bureau may drop flows in the river from the 100 cubic feet per second required by a provision of the National Environmental Policy Act to the level representing the sum total of demands from downstream water users that have water stored in Deer Creek.
Kenley Brunsdale, chairman of the Utah Roundtable of Sportsmen and Conservationists, said the bureau hasn't exercised its authority enough in trying this week to find water users that would sell or lease their water to bolster flow levels in the river. Antiquated water-management policies in the state and an absence of an incentive for conservation led to the problem that now exists on the Provo River.
Drought, not just the bureau, is to blame for current water shortages, said Dee Hansen, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Division of Wildlife Resources Director William Geer said his department would help finance water purchases. Brunsdale also asked the bureau to finance water purchases with federal environmental mitigation money assigned to the CUP.
Kirt Carpenter, chief of the bureau's Utah Projects office in Provo, said he's willing to consider using the mitigation funds to buy water for fish flows only if the sportsmen can find a way to make it legitimate.
No decision was made when the group met Tuesday about how much money irrigators would be offered for their water, or where money to buy the water would come from.
Wes Hirschi, assistant regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City, said the bureau will maintain the 100 cfs flow for now, but a revised "categorical exclusion" under the National Environmental Policy Act is being developed to take current weather and water use conditions into account. The new exclusion will not have a minimum flow figure, he said, and could be used as justification to drop the river flows as soon as Monday.
Hirschi promised the sportsmen the level would not be dropped before 5 p.m. Monday. The group plans to meet that morning at 9.
Brunsdale said the sportsmen would be willing to negotiate the 100 cfs figure once the findings of a Division of Wildlife Resources study become known about one month from now. Meantime, Deer Creek is not expected to fill next year and water users may not get their full allotment, which means water being released now to maintain the fishery is counted against supplies that would otherwise be made available to culinary suppliers next summer in Salt Lake County.