The West Haven Board of Adjustment has voted against a major component of a plan by Salt Lake, Weber and Davis counties to transport water from the Bear River.
The board agreed unanimously this month that a water treatment plant proposed on 130 acres of farmland purchased by the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District for nearly $2 million does not conform to the site's agricultural zoning."Unless it's the `Salt Lake County Water and Hay Conservancy District,' they made a major mistake in buying that property," said Bruce Baird, attorney for a group of West Haven residents opposed to the district's plans.
The water district was not invited to Tuesday's meeting.
"We're kind of in the dark," said David Ovard, the district's general manager.
The Salt Lake and Weber Basin water conservancy districts propose to build a massive plant on the property to treat 180 million gallons of water per day from the Bear River, about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City.
At least half of the water would flow to Salt Lake County, with the rest going to growing communities in Weber and Davis counties.
Expecting existing sources to be tapped out in about 15 years, the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District has spent millions on the West Haven property and on pipeline rights of way from Weber County to Salt Lake County.
The districts scaled back the water treatment plant from 300 acres to 130, but many of West Haven's 3,000 residents remain opposed to sacrificing agricultural land for urban water needs.
A few months ago, the opponents retained Baird, a Salt Lake City attorney, who argued that the town's zoning ordinance allowed nonagricultural use for farmland only for a "public utility substation or storage facility."
Baird asked the Board of Adjustments to rule on whether a "water treatment plant" meets that use.
Baird argued before the board Tuesday that there is no case law in the United States that would define substation or storage facility broadly enough to include a water treatment plant.
With a standing-room-only crowd of about 40 residents, the board agreed, with little debate.
To build a water treatment plant in West Haven now, the water district will have to persuade the board to reconsider, the City Council to change its zoning ordinances or a state judge to overturn the board's action.