Lands Council Discusses Water
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 14. Those present were Chairman Dennis Worwood, Wes Curtis, Ray Petersen, Joe Fielder, Vernell Rowley, Dickson Huntington, Kirk Johansen, Craig Johansen, Thomas Roush and Commissioners Ira Hatch, Gary Kofford and Drew Sitterud.
The first item on the agenda was an update on water. Currently the snotel reported snowpack being 80 percent of normal. Craig Johansen reported that Joes Valley was sitting with 20,000 acre feet of water, 13,000 of which is usable water. He said a full water right is 28,000 acre feet so the reservoir is currently 15,000 acre feet below the point where full water rights could be issued. He said they are hoping for some runoff this year. Johansen reported that the wild and scenic river designations were quiet at the present time with the evaluations expected to take place in February and March.
The situation with Skyline Mine in Huntington Canyon and Utah Power was discussed. Utah Power is pumping water from a well drilled outside of the mine. The water goes back into Electric Lake. They anticipate to be pumping 5,000 gallons per minute with a new pump. They have also applied with the department of water quality for a permit to pump out of the mine and discharge into Electric Lake. The comparison of the water before and after any discharge must be taken into account to see that the water doesn't degrade the stream. Utah Power is hopeful this can take place and they can circulate the water being lost.
Meetings are currently being held for discussion of this ongoing problem with Electric Lake between the various entities involved.
Skyline Mine is currently moving out of the area with the water problem and into another lease area.
Worwood said the ultimate goal was in trying to put water back into the Huntington drainage. Commissioner Hatch said they feel left out of the circle and they haven't been to a meeting for some time. He questioned the need to take the half a million dollars from the CIB to fund a study of the water situation if they have everything worked out. He said they have already advertised for a hydrological firm to investigate the water situation, but if it is already cut and dried then why spend the money to do it.
Richard Snowball from the Huntington/Cleveland Irrigation Company pointed out that the underground water in question is part of their drainage. They have talked with Utah Power and the irrigation company has made it clear they want the dam repaired and the water returned to their drainage. Huntington/Cleveland owns the water rights and they pointed out that no deals have been made anywhere and that everything is still in flux.
Johansen pointed out that if they need hydrological expertise at a later time then maybe the available pot could be divided between the three counties involved. Snowball pointed out that they expressed their desire to Utah Power that if a hydrological study does take place that a new independent firm be hired and not the same person who said it was old water with no connection with the surface.
It was pointed out that those areas of the Skyline Mine are now sealed where the water is and you cannot access those areas now. Any firms doing analysis would have to use prior data. Skyline Mine was checking the water where it came out of the rock and not checking the water in the reservoir. Lee McElprang from the irrigation company pointed out the need to check the water in the reservoir and compare it to that water in the mine.
Snowball mentioned that Utah Power is taking over the wells drilled by Skyline and the costs associated with those wells. The question of whether the water in Skyline Mine will stabilize was discussed. With the portal of the mine being higher than the dam the idea was that the mine should fill with water and stabilize. This is the theory unless the water comes out somewhere else. They have been informed that the tighter faults run to the north and the wider openings run to the south.
Snowball again pointed out they want the lake patched and fixed.
The current stoppings in place at the mine wouldn't hold 300 cfi of pressure. It was estimated they could hold 80.
According to the prior hydrological study the water wouldn't reach the portal. Eventually Skyline would install water tight concrete plugs and make the seals permanent. Johansen pointed out that issue needs to be part of the discussion. McElprang said the current seal in place is to keep people out not to hold water.
Snowball said the seals will not stop the water from rising and the mine is 25 feet higher than the spillway of Electric Lake.
The Heritage subcommittee report was next on the agenda. Curtis reported that everyone should be aware that the Bureau of Land Management had extended the resource management plan by nine months. The BLM travel plan is due out the end of January or the first part of February. He said that the Heritage Bill had been filed in the last session of Congress. It was introduced by Congressman Jim Hansen. As a county we need to decide if we want to pursue the bill. The environmental community may not oppose the bill. Further discussions are needed with them and all other interested parties so the county can decide whether to pursue the Heritage Area or not. We need to decide if we want to put some effort into it. "In talking to Brenda Barrett who is the director of all the BLM Heritage Areas she said there is a new wrinkle involved. A feasibility study must be completed before we could get their support of a Heritage Area in the Swell. It is part of their new way in dealing with Heritage Area requests. Barrett toured the area last summer and she seemed to think there wasn't the population or the amenities to support a Heritage Area. She didn't have the time to take the whole loop though to visit Price and Green River. We need to weigh these things before we go down that road."
Craig Johansen wondered who would sponsor the bill. Curtis said that Senator Bob Bennett would support it in the senate and Congressman Jim Matheson and Chris Cannon in the house. A representative present from Senator Bennett's office said she would talk to him about the bill.
Commissioner Hatch was next with a request that they invite John Baza from the division of oil, gas and mining to come to a meeting to explain the measuring and metering of the gas wells and explain how those things are done.
Worwood said they have talked about the need for better management in that area. Craig Johansen said he thought they would be better served by talking with the gas people directly.
Val Payne said the state issues a routine report of production information.....the information from the gas companies goes to the state and back to the county.
Johansen said the county hadn't been receiving such a report. Commissioner Hatch said maybe they do get aggregate figures but where their concern comes in is that there isn't metering for the wells that come out of the north end; those wells on Poison Springs Bench as well as those in Mohrland are metered through the Carbon plant which is the source of concern. Commissioner Hatch said he thinks they need to get a handle on it and get someone to give them specifics because he thinks the county is losing.
Bryant Anderson from planning and zoning said part of the problem might be the changing of hands by the companies involved but in the past he has found the companies quite willing to work with the county.
It was determined that meetings with the parties involved are in order and the obtaining of monthly production reports would be helpful. McElprang wondered about the responsibility of the gas companies in restoring fences and other items on property disturbed in the installation of gas lines and wells.
Anderson said all of these provisions should be addressed in the initial plan. Commissioner Hatch pointed out that a lot of this reclamation work is slim or nonexistent north of Huntington. It was determined that the county plan would be looked at to make sure these matters are addressed and enforced.
Payne pointed out that onsite inspections are a valuable time to look at and address the needs of a particular site. As well as follow up visits to see that they live up to their commitments.
Worwood pointed out that they were addressing two issues one involving metering and the other the reclamation. He said they need to look at who the permits belong to and remind parties involved what their responsibilities are in the matter. Also a look at the county permitting process to make sure everything is included is in order.
Anderson will speak with the gas companies involved and go pick up information from them or have them email it to him.
Worwood suggested an audit be done which compares production figures with actual well figures. It was also determined that those having problems with fences not being restored to meet with Petersen and let him know where these situations are occurring.
It was pointed out that when a company drills on BLM land that they already have all the steps listed right in the plan as to what the company will do as part of the BLM permitting process.
Roush was next with the report on recreation. He said they have the plaque for the Cleveland/Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry ready to commemorate public lands day 2001 which was held at that site. Also the approval for a plaque for Swasey's Cabin needs to be approved by the commissioners. He also mentioned they are anxiously awaiting the release of the BLM travel plan.
The access management report was next with Petersen mentioning that information is still being gathered for the RS-2477 issue. Mark Ward from the attorney general's office is continuing work on the matter. Ward was present at the meeting and available for questions. Johansen said that he had read that President Bush wanted to resolve the RS-2477 issues.
Ward answered that it was published on the federal register that there would be new procedures for applying for recordable disclaimers of interest, but no policy changes. They are looking at revamping the policy.
Rowley also wondered if there was danger of losing access to roads that were included with the land swap. The trading of state sections of land to the BLM.....was part of the deal. Ward pointed out that those roads constructed prior to 1976 have a vested interest and he didn't see their continued use as a problem. The vested right of way for the road doesn't go away. Ward pointed out that the most important thing that states and counties can do is to show use of that road. Even if state land is traded it will not diminish the quality of that road....still show use and maintenance of roads.
Roush wondered if the state could demand access to their land even if it is included within a wilderness study area. Ward said yes that SITLA does that but he didn't know about counties. As part of the enabling act state land was issued to school children and that land is to be utilized and economically maximized and in order to do that you need access to that land. Ward said he would look into county access to their lands, but he was sure that surrounding state lands with wilderness does not negate their right to access their land. Ward again stressed the need to maintain and use your roads.
Payne pointed out that SITLA is not interested in maintaining their lands which are not beneficial to school children.
Worwood pointed out that RS-2477 rights are unconditional and that those roads constructed after 1976, after FLPMA are conditional use and you must jump through hoops to construct or maintain them.
The grazing report by Huntington was next on the agenda. He reported that the Utah Rangeland Conference in Moab was well attended. He reported that his subcommittee had met and they are hoping for cooperation with the BLM and the forest service. He said they had aired the concerns of the grazers in regard to their current situation with the drought.
Johansen expressed concern that the forest service had not been to a public lands meeting since November. Worwood said they would extend a special invitation to the forest service to invite them to continue to meet with the lands council at their monthly meetings.
Fielder reported that SITLA has a new director. He wondered what the council's stand was on support or nonsupport of the land exchange bill. He also reported that Kevin Carter from SITLA said he would be happy to meet with the lands council anytime to discuss SITLA land issues.
A representative from the BLM reported that Mark Bailey had retired from their office and they are currently taking applications for an assistant field manager. They are on target with their travel plan and have been granted cooperating agency status in the environmental impact study for SR-6. He said there have been some reports of emergency closures on Eva Conover road and the devils racetrack but these roads are open.
Craig Johansen reported that the Uinta Basin had received emergency funding to deal with their end of the resource management plan process and received $80,000 to hire a consultant. A representative from the Uintah Basin said that they are updating plans in regards to the dinosaur national monument as well as livestock plans. With the BLM and the forest service both working on new plans, they applied for money to help with costs. She said they are taking a two prong approach with a representative from the county working with the entities involved in their planning processes. She said it is crucial because 75 percent of their tax base is effected by the BLMs RMP, not to mention the trickle down effects to their other businesses.
Commissioner Sitterud mentioned the need for a grazing section to be added to the Emery County Plan. He also said the county plan is 10 years old and might need to be tightened up. Craig Johansen encouraged all council members to become familiar with the county plan.
Snowball explained that lease water to Utah Power is being drained from Cleveland and Huntington Reservoirs in Huntington Canyon and that the ice is dangerously thin in some spots. The irrigation company is placing signs along the reservoirs to warn ice fishermen and snowmobilers about the danger.
Worwood said they would inform Congressman Matheson's staff about the public lands council and invite them to participate. The meeting schedule for 2003 was discussed. Every third meeting will be an evening meeting to accommodate council members who work and to give the general public the opportunity to attend. Craig Johansen wondered if those from the agencies would still be able to attend if the meetings were held in the evenings. Those agencies present said they would send a representative to the evening meetings.
Craig Johansen informed the council that Utah Power is meeting with the irrigation companies to see if they have any water available to lease to them from their drainages. They are working through the irrigation companies and if an individual does not want to participate they wouldn't be required to do so.
The meeting was adjourned into executive session. The next public lands council meeting will be held on Feb. 11 at 10 a.m.