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Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Contract reached to resolve high-stakes Ogden Valley water fight
Due to the importance of this issue, we have pasted the entire Cathy McKitrick article below.
EDEN — While it may not be a kumbaya moment, a recent agreement signed bySummit Mountain Holding Group LLC and area water companies signals significant progress in a battle that at times looked impossible to resolve.
The water saga began in 2013 after Summit purchased 10,000 mountainside acres, along with the Powder Mountain ski resort, that straddles Weber and Cache counties. Along with that land purchase came 1,400 acre feet of water in Pineview Reservoir, and Summit hoped to tap 400 acre-feet via its newly-dug mountaintop Hidden Lake well. An acre-foot is the volume of a sheet of water one acre in area and one foot in depth.
In April 2014, Summit applied to the Division of Water Rights for an exchange permit that would allow release of 400 acre-feet out of Pineview Reservoir to compensate water users in the valley for any diminished flows caused by the Hidden Lake well. In late July 2015 — after dueling hydrogeology studies and extensive legal fees — the State Engineer OK’d Summit’s exchange request with several conditions. Since that time, stakeholders have been negotiating an agreement that would satisfy all the parties.
A new 88-page contract among Summit, Wolf Creek Irrigation Company, Bar B Ranch Inc., Eden Water Works Company, Middle Fork Irrigation Company, and Wolf Creek Water and Sewer Improvement District details several actions Summit must take to accommodate residents lower on the mountain. At the peak of animosity, several residents posted “Summit Sucks Water” signs in their yards and pastures to warn tourists of the unhappy relationship.
Dee Staples, president of the Wolf Creek Irrigation Company, described theagreement as a “laborious, technical document.” While he voiced qualms about Summit’s development plans, Staples acknowledged that the contract terms “were as good as we could have hoped for.”
The four-phased Summit-Eden Powder Mountain project area spans 6,278 acres of property that in 2012 held a taxable value of about $875,062, according to a 2014 Weber County agreement. The finished development could feature up to 1,000 single- and multi-family dwelling units plus 290,000 square feet of commercial space — including hotels, restaurants and lodges, that agreement said.
“I am concerned that so many units have been approved to be built on top of Powder Mountain. I could accept fewer. And I think it is unwise to allow 400 acre-feet of water to be purchased in Pineview Reservoir, which is below our watershed, then to allow that water to be pumped from wells on top of the mountain, which is above our watershed,” Staples said. “I am troubled that a city will be built in the middle of some very sensitive wildlife habitat. These are factors that were approved by other institutions before we started negotiations.”
Given those conditions, Staples said they proceeded to negotiate the best deal they could get.
“The end result is an agreement with which we are satisfied. None of the parties got everything they wanted,” Staples said. “However, we established a pathway going forward which will hopefully allow all parties to maintain established rights and to provide a means by which all parties can achieve success.”
Summit Executive Vice President Paul Strange hailed the collaborative effort that led to the successful dispute resolution.
“Everybody was open to finding a way to live and work together,” Strange said. “We're very pleased, and we're looking forward to building homes as soon as the snow melts.”
Mitigating the Hidden Lake well’s impact on Lefty Spring, a water source that provides significant flow to Wolf Creek, was a key part of the agreement.
“Any interference would show up there first,” Staples said. “So we extracted an easement from Summit, and they will build a monitoring device at the mouth of the spring so we can access it, measure it and determine if and when interference occurs.”
Summit also agreed to pay Wolf Creek Irrigation Company $85,000 “to make a small dent in our attorney's fees,” Staples said, adding that those funds will be divided among the protesters.
Staples said they divided Summit’s requested 400 acre-feet into two 200 acre-feet segments. And Summit agreed to mitigate interference by purchasing 15 shares in Wolf Creek Irrigation Company and build up to 20-acre-feet of water storage.
Due to concerns from Eden Water Works and Bar B Ranch, Summit also relinquished at least one diversion point where future wells can be drilled.
“They'll drill another well this summer,” Staples said. “They agreed to then go over to the Cache County side and look for the other 200-acre feet of water. There's a lot more water on the Cache side that will serve their purposes better.”
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck