Members of the board of directors of the Provo River Water Users Association sat quietly in the back of the Utah County Commission chambers during a recent public meeting on proposals to reduce the flow of the Provo River.
"I don't see why the Utah County Commissioners are getting involved," Jack Gardner, association superintendent, said in an interview after the meeting. "This is a matter between the water users and the state engineer."The water users association is also concerned about the Bureau of Reclamation's move to reduce flow of the Provo River and store water in Deer Creek Reservoir - but not for the same reasons other entities are concerned.
Gardner said the association also would like to hold the natural flow of the Provo River in Deer Creek Reservoir as insurance against what may be the third dry year in a row. But the association believes it is its right to do so, not Reclamation's.
"They do not have the right to use the reservoir without our approval," Gardner said.
The right to control the natural flow of the Provo River was given to the Provo River Water Users Association by the Bureau of Reclamation when that agency enlarged Strawberry Reservoir and made arrangements to store excess water from Strawberry in Utah Lake, Gardner said.
Gardner believes Reclamation's current action may be an attempt to invalidate the earlier agreement.
Gardner said the association has been accused of being against preservation of the fisheries and of being insensitive to the recreational and economic impacts of the Provo River. He disagrees.
"No one has mentioned Deer Creek Reservoir as a recreational resource, yet 825,000 people visited Deer Creek State Park last year," Gardner said. "And both of the best fisheries in the state are below dams. That's because dam (operators) maintain the flow of water (year round) and control the water during flood years."
And, Gardner said, calls for the association to conserve water are misdirected.
"As a wholesaler of water, we have to deliver water to our shareholders," Gardner said. "Those entities need to tell people to conserve."
Limited water conservation did take place this summer, said Gardner. He said golf courses and parks in Salt Lake County were asked to cut back on water consumption.
Gardner said severe water rationing will be necessary next year if drought conditions continue.
The need to conserve water and the need to maintain the river's flow level are contradictory, however.
"It's a lose, lose situation," Gardner said.
And water conservation results in lost revenues for water districts, which then raise the price of water to make up the difference, Gardner said. "People pay more for less water."
Gardner said that despite what many people think, much of its water goes to Utah County: Provo and Orem metropolitan water districts are shareholders, for example.
"They were requested to let water down the river and they refused," said Rick Cox, association assistant superintendent. "Every one wants to save water. Well, same here."
Gardner said the level in Deer Creek Reservoir is currently 55 percent of capacity.