CEDAR CITY — Local officials gathered at the Great Hall of Southern Utah University’s Hunter Conference Center to talk about water Tuesday night.
A crowd of approximately 400 people filled the room to hear panelists discuss issues and answer questions about a variety of water-related topics. The 90-minute public meeting, titled “Critical Water Challenges and Proposed Solutions,” was hosted by the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District.
Tyler Melling, water district board member and Cedar City Council member, first welcomed everyone and thanked them for their attendance.
“Tonight, we’re going to talk about water issues that apply to our whole county and some of the work the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District is doing in cooperation with the cities in our county and with the state to help ensure the water future of our county,” Melling said.
A 10-minute video was then shown, during which Paul Monroe, the water district’s general manager, talked about various key challenges along with some proposed solutions.
The past two years have been the second-driest consecutive years in Cedar City’s 127-year history, he said, noting that 2021 is also the second-warmest year on record, with extreme drought conditions persisting.
The water conservancy district’s three main areas of focus are conservation, recharge and reuse and importing water, Monroe said during the video.
After the video, Monroe talked about the water district’s planned Pine Valley Water Supply Project, which proponents say will bring an estimated 15,000 acre feet of water annually from the Pine Valley area in a remote part of western Beaver County via approximately 50 miles of pipeline to Cedar Valley.
The project, which is still in the environmental impact study phase, has an estimated price tag of $260 million, he said, adding that if that cost were to be paid by only the current water users in the Cedar Valley, it would amount to an additional $46 per month for each of the area’s 20,000 water customers. However, he noted that other factors, such as projected population growth, impact fees, federal grants and better interest rates, could help lower the anticipated costs.
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to the panel discussion, moderated by local radio host Chris Holmes. Joining Monroe on stage were four other panelists: Cedar City Council member Terri Hartley, Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson, Southern Utah University economics professor David Tufte and Utah Division of Water Rights engineer Nathan Moses.
The panelists were collectively asked nearly a dozen questions, which had been submitted in advance by members of the public. Following are a few of the highlights among the various responses.
‘As we have crisis, we also have innovation’
When asked why cities continued to issue building permits if water is so scarce, Dotson said that cities “cannot deny development.”
“In fact, recently the state code changed so that there’s no such thing as a moratorium on land use,” he said, adding that they must work within those parameters.
“We cannot stop growth, but we can wisely get the resources available so that people can use their property to the highest use of the highest value.”
Regarding the cost of the project, Hartley noted that the proposed Pine Valley Water Supply Project has an estimated cost of $17,333 per annual acre foot, which she said compares favorably to estimates for other proposed water projects.
Tufte spoke of the expected hike in users’ water bills that would result from the Pine Valley Water Supply Project.
“Fifty bucks a month is not going to be fun, but I think that that will get the project costs covered,” he said. “I think to the extent to which we move some of those costs over onto new construction, that will lower the increase in bills for all the rest of us.”
In response later to a different question, Tufte said if Iron County wasn’t situated in the desert, “it would be something else that limited our growth, land availability or something like that,” he said. “But for us, it’s water.”
“There will come a point where Cedar City is as big as it possibly can be,” he said. “The Pine Valley pipeline and the water it brings is going to help put that off. It’s not going to eliminate that problem, but maybe if we’re judicious and we think about this over the next 50 years, maybe we can put ourselves in a better position.”
Hartley also addressed the issue of being judicious.
“We all need to do our part, and we can do better,” she said. “But if you look at this chart that’s in front of you, Iron County is actually already doing a pretty good job of that. We are the fourth-lowest water user of the 29 counties in Utah, and we compare very favorably to our neighboring counties.”
Along the lines of usage, Moses said the projected safe yield of Cedar Valley’s aquifer is 21,000 acre feet per year, but users have been pumping out 28,000, resulting in a net depletion of 7,000 acre feet per year. He then went into the details of the state’s groundwater management plan and how it will impact water rights over the next 50 years.
Tufte said the reality is that a meeting like that which was held Tuesday maybe should’ve been held “in 1970, 1980 or 1990.”
“We didn’t do that,” he said, “so we’re doing it now, which is a good thing.”
Other concerns that have been raised in regard to the Pine Valley Water Supply Project deal with environmental impacts. Monroe said precautions are already being taken and will continue to be implemented to minimize any negative effects on potentially sensitive species, such as the least chub, a concern previously reported on by St. George News / Cedar City News.
Engineer Kelly Crane, who was seated near the front of the audience and was invited by Monroe to weigh in, then explained that the livestock and wildlife in the Pine Valley area get their water from surface springs, also known as perched springs, which he said are separate from the water in the underground aquifer.
Other topics mentioned during the meeting include ramping up conservation efforts for both residences and business and using more efficient watering systems for growing crops, something which is the topic of a study being conducted by Utah State University at the SUU farm.
Toward the end of the meeting, Dotson expressed his optimism that solutions can be found.
“Everybody is working in their own realm to come up with solutions,” he said. “I know that as we have crisis, we also have innovation. And innovations are going to come. There’s a lot of smart people around us that know more than we all do.”
In a preview news release announcing Tuesday’s event, Monroe had shared similar ideas.
“We realize there is still more to do, and we are open to new ideas and solutions,” Monroe said in the statement. “Never has it been more important to optimize every drop of water in Cedar Valley and to create sustainable solutions for the future.”
He added that, “in the end, plans are in place, our community is resilient and we are going to be okay.”
Event organizers on Tuesday said if there are any additional questions that were not adequately addressed during the meeting, members of the public are invited to submit them by clicking on the green button on the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District webpage, and answers will be posted on the site later.
To watch a video recording of the meeting on YouTube, click here.
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