Jay Mark Humphrey made a presentation to the Emery County Public Lands Council at their December meeting. Humphrey is the manager of the Emery Water Conservancy District. His presentation concerned the issue of water and subsidence from coal mining operations.
Humphrey said he made this presentation to the legislative water task force. He is concerned with water leaving its intended drainage. "Mining is good, but it's also causing heartache with losing water and money," said Humphrey.
Humphrey referred to the interruption of water at the surface due to underground mining activities. He said coal leases equate hundreds of miles of underground tunnels which cause acres of subsidence. He said that mining under Box Canyon has caused a number of springs in that area to dry up. There has been a lot of monitoring in that area and once full ponds and water troughs now sit dry. He showed pictures on the presentation showing the subsidence cracks which are due to mining in the North Spring area. The fractures, holes and cracks have settled for now as the mining company prepares to leave mining in that area and continue in another area.
This area also serves as winter habitat for elk in the area. This mining company, SUFCO, has been active in water replacement and has been hauling in water and helped the US Forest Service with guzzlers that were installed in 2005. They are also planning to install a new water pipeline in this area to help with water that was lost. They are hauling water to help take care of the cattle however, there are concerns for wildlife in the area.
There are also concerns about the drainage issues and the water that is currently leaving the Muddy drainage where it should be going and is being sent down Quitchupah drainage. In 1994 the daily water discharge from the SUFCO mine was 1.02 cfs and in May of 2006 the current discharge was 7.71 cfs. This water used to appear in the Muddy drainage from springs and runoff and is now being discharged by the mine into another drainage. There are rules and regulations set-up by the Division of Water Quality concerning the water quality of water coming from a mine portal and where it can be diverted.
Councilmember Gary Petty is familiar with the situation between the mining company and the loss of water as he is a cattleman and farmer from Emery. He said the mining company has been very good and they have been hauling water out of the goodness of their heart as there are no agreements which hold them to doing that.
Humphrey went on to explain about subsidence on the Cottonwood drainage. "The subsidence holes are still there from mining in the 90s. The Burnt Tree Spring used to be a source of water for the Des-Bee-Dove mine bath house. In 1984 it ran 27 gpm and is now greatly reduced.
In the Huntington drainage there are fractures in the bottom of Electric Lake. Some of the water that is lost from Electric Lake has ended up in the Skyline Mine. Skyline Mine discharges extra water into the Eccles Creek that flows into the Scofield Reservoir which is a trans basin water diversion. In 1999, Rocky Mountain Power began seeing a loss of water in Electric Lake. Skyline Mine began seeing a large amount of extra water within their mine workings. There are still 32-40 acre feet of missing water a day from Electric Lake that can't be accounted for.
The water loss has brought about increased monitoring of all the water entering Electric Lake. Data is still being gathered to determine where the water is being lost and where the responsibilities lie for this loss of water.
Another issue is what to do with the water which is being saved from the installation of the Ferron and Huntington sprinkling projects. The law doesn't say what can be done with this saved water. Can it be used for industry?
Sherrel Ward commented that when Utah Power came into the county with the building of the Huntington Plant they acquired one third of the water from the Huntington Cleveland irrigators.
Additional acres may be brought into production but they cannot exceed 22,000 acres. Ward said that as they put in the pivots and wheel lines that additional acres are brought into production to square up the land.
Humphrey cited a case with Castle Valley Ranch where they had to take some acres out of production because the acres in production exceeded the limit on their water rights. Humphrey said, "If the water is saved in Emery County then why not let it be used here and not run down the San Rafael."
Humphrey wondered about the possiblility of irrigation companies receiving mitigation funds to help offset the problems caused with loss of water due to mining activities.
Ward said with the Huntington/Cleveland irrigation project savings are expected to be $12 million per year with the savings from salt reduction into the Colorado River.
Water is valued at $375 an acre foot, that is a lot of money being lost. Humphrey said the experts say it takes 4 acre feet of water a year to raise a crop of alfalfa by flood irrigation. With the sprinklers this has been reduced to 3.2 acre feet. With the Huntington/Cleveland irrigation project, measuring devices will be on the main pipes so the water can be measured accurately.
Water is just lost to the county when it leaves the county. Humphrey said that Southern California has paid Utah to enhance its cloud seeders because they are the beneficiary of Utah water downstream.
Petty is concerned that SUFCO mine will be moving under the Big Ridge area with their mining activities and the potential is there for an impact on water even greater than in the past because this is the main part of the water shed.
Some discussion took place as to why the cfs in Huntington Creek hasn't increased now that the drought is over. Twelve cfs was the original agreement and was the best flow for fish health. Commissioner Ira Hatch said they need to get the flow back up to 12 cfs now that the drought is over.
Ward said getting approval to build any new reservoirs is almost impossible. They will only let them build regulating reservoirs. Humphrey commented that all cheap water storage reservoir sites in the county have been used and water storage will become more costly.
Humphrey said some of Electric Lake needs to be drained or it will experience a flushing flow with spring runoff.
Commissioner Gary Kofford said one of the main problems is the regulating agencies will not say that coal mining has affected water in any way. The federal agencies do not work together and will not accept responsibility.
Ward pointed out that one of the good things that has happened with coal mining and water is increased cooperation with mining companies. Huntington/Cleveland irrigation has asked for increased spring monitoring and the CW Mining Co. has placed the monitoring devices as requested
Humphrey said it would be helpful if the private irrigation companies could request CIB money for water loss. Legislation needs to be introduced to allow irrigation companies to go after funds. A problems lies in being able to prove that water has been lost.
Ward also said that Rocky Mountain Power donated $20 million to the Huntington/Cleveland irrigation project
Humphrey said that some hard lessons have been learned with coal mining and water and in the future closer attention needs to be paid before leases are issued. The Cottonwood tract could affect Joe's Valley Reservoir and leases are also being considered on the North Horn and these need to be watched closely as things progress.