Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Emigration Canyon is pictured on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — The state approved the continued diversion of deep well water in Emigration Canyon despite some homeowners' concerns it is drying up the creek and compromising private wells.

But in the decision rendered this week by State Engineer Kent Jones, he determined he was unable to "reasonably connect the concerns" lodged over the diversion of the same quantity of water that has been happening for 22 years.

Jones said the continued diversion would not interfere with beneficial use, affect public recreation or the stream environment or prove detrimental to the public welfare, a test which must be met under state law.

"Changes in population density, climate and land development choices may affect the environment and may at times be unpopular, but these changes are more connected to the protestants' opposition than the approval or rejection of a particular water right application," the order stated.

Jones added, however, that the approval of the continued diversion of water by Emigration Improvement District and the additional wells comes with some strict requirements of hydrological monitoring.

The district, over 22 years, has been withdrawing the water to serve about 300 households in the canyons via a temporary change application that had to be renewed on an annual basis.

Because of continuing concerns over the withdrawal of 600 acre-feet of water, Jones asked the district to undergo the review process and make the diversion either permanent or discontinued.

That process kicked off a hearing and the ability for canyon residents to lodge formal protests over the district's groundwater pumping.

About 30 canyon residents on private well systems objected, asserting the district's deep wells are drying up the creek, ruining the riparian environment and drawing down their own water supplies.

The district has a monitoring system in place and blamed the drying of the stream on drought, pointing to signficant reductions in flows of Red Butte Creek as well.

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Jones said a groundwater study for the Emigration Canyon area would be beneficial to "dispel fears over unknowns as uses approach the limits of the resource."

Funding from the Utah Legislature, he added, allows his office to financially participate in such a study.

A statement released by the homeowners association said the members believe Jones disregarded his statutory obligations and they are reviewing their legal options.

A decision on another application for a smaller water diversion by the district is pending.