Water purchases being sought to maintain Provo River flows have reached the amount needed, but only on paper.
The Bureau of Reclamation and Central Utah Water Conservancy District have put out a one-time offer to buy irrigation water on the Provo River or in Deer Creek Reservoir for $50 an acre-foot. The bureau said it would buy as much as 9,500 acre-feet to supplement winter flows to protect the brown trout fishery on the Provo River and has now received offers for 10,000 acre-feet.The problem, according to conservancy district engineer Sheldon Talbot, is the water that has been offered for sale is "paper water" at this point and not "wet water."
Anyone familiar with water shares, water rights, preferential rights, exchange agreements, trans-basin diversions, storage rights and in-stream flows and other issues related to water and money knows that the an acre-foot of water sold at location A doesn't necessarily amount to an acre-foot of water once it is delivered to location B.
The conservancy district staff, with the help of the State Engineer's office, has shifted its emphasis from receiving offers from interested water sellers to sorting out the legalities and technicalities of getting the water to Deer Creek, where the bureau can release it into the river to preserve the blue-ribbon fishery in the upper six miles of Provo Canyon.
Talbot said some of the water offered for sale is in the Weber basin and would have to survive a trans-basin diversion in canals to reach Deer Creek. Other water offered to the district comes from summer supplies that would have to be exchanged for winter supplies. Other water offered is available for lease or sale subject to allocations or users with higher-priority rights.
Because of drought and other mitigating factors, stored water in Deer Creek is low and the river would be also if it weren't for a National Environmental Policy Act requirement tied to the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project that mandates a 100 cubic foot per second flow of water for the fish.
Representatives of sportsmens groups are putting the squeeze on water officials to come up with enough water to at least meet an 85 cfs drought-year compromise. After that, the bureau has promised to reassess the environmental conditions on the Provo River to come up with an operating agreement that can function until Jordanelle Reservoir is completed, probably 10 years hence.
So while the engineers were trying to convert paper water to wet water, attorneys and other representatives of water and irrigation companies have been meeting two or more times daily with representatives of sportsmens groups and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, a member of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, to try to put words agreeable to everyone in a memorandum of understanding.
Once completed, the memorandum will be a non-legally binding document that sets forth the intentions of everyone involved to keep water in the river without using all of the supplies that would otherwise be used for culinary water next summer in Salt Lake County.
The first draft of the memo, written by sportsmens attorney Kenley Brunsdale, laid the blame on water developers for passing up opportunities for conservation and cooperative management.
Nick Sefakis, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake, said Thursday that draft was totally unacceptable. Joe Novak, attorney for the district and for the Provo River Water Users Association, agreed and wrote a substitute draft.
But Novak's document was not put on the table when Owens mediated a Thursday evening meeting called to weed out differences of opinion about the proposed memorandum. Owens himself had prepared a draft, and it became the working document at the meeting.
Bureau officials have said during the past week they wanted to drop the river level immediately to the proposed level of 85 cfs. Owens, Brunsdale and sportsmens representative Jeff Appel disagreed and have been able to stall the reduction until a memorandum is signed.
Novak said wording in the draft memos went beyond the scope of getting through the immediate emergency that exists this winter.
A sentence in Owens' draft called the completion of the memorandum "essential to the reauthorization and completion of the Central Utah Project."
While Owens consented to having the sentence stricken, he said one purpose of the document "is to call off the national environmental community" that has threatened law suits if the river was allowed to drop because of the adverse affect it would have on the fish.
A reauthorization bill that would raise the spending limit for the CUP to see construction finished would never clear Congress unless the national environmental community acquiesces, Owens said.