Letter to the Editor: Hcic's Water Rights
After reading the two articles in the Sun Advocate, dated April 1 and April 22, concerning water encountered in Canyon Fuel's Skyline Mine, I feel it necessary that Huntington Cleveland Irrigation Company (HCIC) respond.
These are the points I would like make .
1) The April 1 article in the Sun Advocate stated that Carbon, Emery, and SanPete County Commissions had reached an "agreement" to distribute the water coming from the mine portal and being pumped from wells in James Canyon. This statement requires a quick review of "water rights" in Utah.
Waters located within the State belong to the State of Utah. The right to put this water to "beneficial use" is called a "water right" and is granted by the "State Engineer" to water districts, irrigation companies, etc.All of these water rights come under the jurisdiction of the "State Engineer". No authority is granted to the counties to decide how water shall be distributed or used.
2)The April 1 article also stated that the "Three County Agreement" would provide enough water to PacifiCorp's Huntington Canyon Power Plant to keep the plant in operation for the coming year.
Let's be clear, the reason that the Huntington Canyon Power Plant will have water to stay in operation this coming year is because of the close cooperation between HCIC stockholders and the power company. HCIC irrigators and stockholders have agreed to lease to PacifiCorp over two thirds of the water the plant will need this year.
3)One Carbon County commissioner is quoted in the April 22 issue of the Advocate as saying that water rights must take a backseat to jobs in the Skyline Mine.
HCIC does not want anyone to lose their employment. This includes all of the jobs related to coal mining and power production. However, we need to recognize the importance of water rights as they pertain to employment both in Emery County and Carbon County.
PacifiCorp, over the years, has bought and leased millions of dollars worth of water from farmers and irrigators. That water has been put to beneficial use to produce electricity, and, to produce jobs. Hundreds of jobs in the mines, at the power plants, in trucking, mine equipment repair ... the list of jobs provided goes on and on ... have been made possible because of the water that PacifiCorp as been able to obtain. HCIC holds the water rights to virtually all the water in the Huntington Creek drainage. PacifiCorp owns stock in HCIC. Without the willing cooperation of farmers and irrigators there would have been no water for power plants or other industry. There would be no jobs in the mines and power plants; no mine equipment repair shops; no large scale trucking employment, etc. Water, and state granted water rights, have made it possible for all of us to live and work in Emery and Carbon counties. Indeed, water rights and beneficial use of those water rights are of paramount importance to our local economies.
4)Before March 1999 Skyline Mine was pumping 300 gpm, more or less, from the mine. Since March of 1999 there have been eight (8) major inflows into the Skyline Mine.All of these inflows initially produced 1000gpm, or more, with one inflow estimated at 4700gpm. All the inflows are found 700 to 800 feet below, and slightly north of Electric Lake.Every major inflow occurs under the water right area of HCIC.On August 16, 2001 a very large inflow, producing approximately 4700 gpm, was encountered. This inflow still produces 4000 (+) gpm.
At the same time that this large inflow was struck, PacifCorp became aware that Electric Lake was losing 4700 gpm over and above the lakes natural loses and evaporation. As far as we know, this water is not coming out of any new spring or canyon in the surrounding area. The only place where we see an usually large amount of water (now between 9,000 - 10,000 gpm) being produced is in the Skyline Mine.
5)Both Sun Advocate articles refer to tritium levels in the water. Both articles say that tritium levels have only risen slightly.
In fact, tritium levels have risen to over ten (10) times initial readings.This clearly shows a connection to the surface and to surface water. HCIC firmly believes that as the old water is being pumped out of the mine and out of the James Canyon well, surface water is recharging the old water aquifer. This is certainly water from the Huntington Creek drainage and much of this water, we believe, is water from Electric Lake which hangs like a huge, leaky bathtub over the mine. And, it is water that should be providing many jobs in Emery County as well as jobs to those who live in Carbon County and work in Emery County.
Our water rights, from the State of Utah read "all waters, surface and underground" are appropriated to the water rights of HCIC. The office of State Engineer has recently stated that all waters on a drainage are hydrologically connected, and that any disturbance to the drainage could upset the hydrological balance of the area. HCIC believes that this is exactly what is happening.
HCIC is pleased that the State Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining (DOGM) is going to install more monitoring wells in the Electric Lake area. The more data we have, the more likely it will be that answers can be provided as to the nature of the underground aquifer and its connection to surface waters.
We have a good working relationship with the Emery County Commission, with PacifiCorp, and we have been able to discuss our mutual problems with the good people at Canyon Fuel on many occasions. Also, HCIC hopes that the spirit of cooperation between PacifiCorp and Skyline Mine continues and that a repair to Electric Lake can be accomplished. We pledge our support of this cooperation to the end that it seeks a real solution and a return of our water to the Huntington Creek drainage where by water rights it belongs.