This is a guest post from Sean Healy
Members of the Ogden Valley Planning Commission:
I would like to address the issue of the two proposed golf courses on Powder Mountain in relation to the Ogden River Water Project’s long-term ability to fulfill its current and future water demands. The proposal comes against the backdrop of a long-term drought. Despite water conservation measures taken throughout the year, water volume in Pineview Reservoir is currently well below historical norms. In fact, there is considerable evidence that the climate is changing, and that our water supply problems will only grow with time. The mean projection of the climate models relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows a 6.1°F temperature increase within 100 years, with warming greater in the Interior West. This change will limit snowpacks and decrease the ability of snow-fed watersheds like ours to recharge reservoirs. At the same time, Utah is undergoing rapid population growth, meaning that more people will be competing for less water.
One study of San Antonio municipal golf courses suggested that approximately 2100 gallons of water were required to support each round of golf played. I see the effects of this water demand in Eden where a small stream behind my house abruptly stops flowing in April or so when it is appropriated to feed the Wolf Creek golf course. The applicants have provided no evidence that even one golf course is an extravagance that our water supply can support, particularly at 7000 feet where lower barometric pressure and higher evapotranspiration would require greater than average irrigation. Additionally, there is a good chance that high levels of fertilizers and pesticides used on any proposed golf course would have an adverse effect on both surface and ground water, particularly since the proposed source is so near the head of our watershed. A 2002 TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) report from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality called for a 24% reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous loadings in Pineview Reservoir. The new golf courses could only be considered a significant setback with respect to that goal.
Regarding water quality and use, the applicants are likely to make vague promises about using recycled water and efficient irrigation methods, and will likely point out the fact that any construction will ultimately need to be sanctioned in view of the a long-term water plan. However, experience tells us that once this kind of specific zoning change is made, development becomes not a question of “if,” but “when.” At this point, the Commission may require proof that the proposal is consistent with both current and projected water resources and needs. This dynamic would subtly change if the landowner could claim the “right” to develop under altered zoning. The courts in Utah have defended the latitude that zoning commissions have in considering local input and their own expertise in determining if a proposed zoning change is consistent with community well-being (see Utah Supreme Court decision: Bradley v. Payson City). I believe that the Commission should decide that it is incumbent upon the landowners to show exactly how the two proposed golf courses would be compatible with our growing population and shrinking snowpack. A third-party hydrological assessment of the watershed might be an appropriate route. We depend upon you to look ahead and reconcile proposed uses (in this case, recreation) with the community’s long-term needs and values. Admittedly, this is not an easy task, but I urge you to give consideration to the implications of committing a significant amount of water to golf that would otherwise end up in the reservoir or in the aquifer.