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Electric Lake: Where did it go?

By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

Electric Lake is at approximately 30 percent of full capacity at this time. The prolonged drought and the missing water have created problems downstream at the Huntington Power Plant.

A representative from Utah Power attended the June public lands council meeting to give an update on the water situation at Electric Lake. Carlyle Burton, (Carly) said that he has been involved with water issues in Emery County since 1973 and has dealt with Commissioner Ira Hatch and Craig Johansen on water issues in the county. In all of the years, however, he has not seen anything like the water issues of today. He stressed that these situations are water issues and not political issues.

Burton presented charts and graphs assessing the situation at Electric Lake and the drought situation the county finds itself in. In the year 2000, stream flows were 83 percent of average, in 2001 it was 61 percent of average and in 2002 it was 41 percent and this year is just a little better than last year. Because of the sustained, continued drought, naturally reduced stream flows, and the water losses from Electric Lake, it currently contains only 30 percent of full capacity.

Burton has monthly inflow levels dating back to 1971, even before the reservoir was constructed. The flows have followed a certain pattern through the years. Low flow in the fall and winter, higher flows in the spring and then dropping off again in the late summer and fall. Burton described a 'funny thing' happening in August-September of 2001. On August 16, Skyline Mine hit a fault in their mine workings and right after that, the monthly flow charts began showing a negative lake balance. The lake began dropping in a manner greater than the outflow and the natural evaporation.

With the drilling of the James Canyon one well and the pumping of that water back into Electric Lake; the lake still remained at near zero computed inflow with negative computerized flows. "Why the negative readings? Why the dropping elevation of the lake? Is it going into Skyline Mine? We can't prove that," said Burton. He went on to explain the steps taken to monitor the flows and how Utah Power had installed measuring devices on upper Huntington Creek and at other lake tributary sources. One random reading in Feb. 2003, measured 13 cubic feet of water per second flowing into the lake with 9.2 cubic feet per second coming from the James Canyon one well and the remainder coming from other tributaries for a difference of less than 4 cfs. The lake is missing water and continues to do so and the rate of loss has been fairly consistent over the last 20 months at 11-12 cfs.

Utah Power has conducted high tech studies which confirmed that the lake sits on two faults of water bearing strata. A dye test was conducted and the dye hasn't surfaced as of yet. Tritium testing in the mine workings was also conducted with the theory being if tritium is not found in the water sample then the water has never been to the surface in recent history. Tritium being a byproduct of the atomic bomb and present in surface water since the first atomic bomb was unleashed. The initial tritium samples showed a .017 level of tritium and other samples indicate levels of 1.6 and 1.7. Burton isn't sure if the increase in tritium concentrations is statistically significant. Utah Power continues to look at solutions, a bentonite lining or a rubber lining have been considered but not deemed feasible. "There may never be a long-term solution. Maybe when the mining discontinues and the regional ground water table reaches equilibrium will be the best fix, but that could take several years. The question is how to keep the Huntington Plant in operation for the 2003-04 season," said Burton.

Electric Lake at full capacity holds 30,000 acre feet of water. The plant needs 12,000 acre feet of water to remain in operation. In February and March Electric Lake only held 4,000 acre feet of water. The company took action to remedy their situation by leasing 8,500 acre feet of water from the Huntington Cleveland Irrigation Company. They also looked at Cottonwood and Ferron Irrigation Companies, but didn't end up leasing from them because it looked like Hunter Plant would have an adequate supply to get through this year and into 2004. The 8,500 acre feet will come from the reservoirs on the left fork of Huntington Canyon. Other measures taken were to reduce the minimum stream flow from 15 cfs to 6 cfs to keep Electric Lake from being totally drained. As it sits today, Electric Lake stored more than was anticipated. Burton stressed the most important thing to them was ensuring the Huntington Plant would continue to operate. Another goal of Utah Power is to get the James Canyon well number three operating which will put another 11 cfs back into the lake. He voiced the need for that water to remain in the Huntington drainage. Eight thousand gallons per minute is still going out Eccles Canyon.

These are big issues, water rights and transbasin diversion issues and the water rights of the irrigation company must be addressed. Good records of stream flows are crucial in proving and documenting what is really going on.

Burton explained a situation they had in 1975 when they had a hole on the dam that went down 30 feet with water in it. Water was piping under the dam through fissures in the bedrock which resulted in material being scoured out of the center of the dam and it took one million bags of grout at that time to fix the problem. With these two faults discovered farther up in the reservoir there doesn't appear to be any feasible fixes. "We will keep working, but there are no easy answers," said Burton.

Craig Johansen mentioned that Canyon Fuel had announced they will idle the mine the second quarter of 2004. The difference was pointed out that with the mine being idled and not shut down the mine would need to maintain pumps and equipment. The question was also brought up as to whether or not the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining would invoke any water replacement laws.

Burton also commented on the wild and scenic rivers saying that Huntington Creek is a totally controlled river and the flow is regulated by Electric Lake and the Left Fork Reservoirs. He stressed a wild and scenic designation could potentially prohibit any further development along the creek and to be aware of and study the situation with great concern.





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