Southern Utah News Articles
Protesting SRS use of city water
Most are aware that the City of Kanab has entered into a water use agreement with Southern Red Sands (SRS) for its proposed frac sand mining operations at Red Knoll north of the City. (SRS has also entered into a similar agreement with the Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD).) The agreement calls for SRS to drill new wells into the groundwater aquifer which feeds the Kanab City municipal wells and water system, other water rights holders’ wells south and west of Red Knoll, seeps and springs that feed Three Lakes Canyon, Kanab Creek, and associated drainages, and waters ultimately utilized by Kanab Irrigation Company shareholders. The prospective SRS wells will be located on Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA lands), and will be owned and operated by SRS. But the wells will utilize a portion of water rights held by the City of Kanab (and, the KCWCD in regard to the SRS - KCWCD agreement).
Because the SRS well sites are new and different than City or KCWCD well sites, or “points of diversion” for removal of water from the groundwater source, the water rights holders - the City and KCWCD, must file applications for a change in point of diversion (POD) with the Utah State Engineer of the Utah Division of Water Rights. In accordance with the SRS-City agreement, SRS and its attorneys - Parsons, Behle, and Latimer in Salt Lake City, have prepared and submitted the City’s application (85-39 a45058), and presumably will do so in the near future regarding KCWCD water rights as well.
Notice of the City application for change in POD was published in the Southern Utah News on Sept. 5 and Sept. 12. Under Utah State law, protests to this proposed change in point of diversion must be filed with the Utah State Engineer by October 2. After review of all information received, and a possible public hearing, the Utah State Engineer will then make a decision on whether the City’s application will be approved, or rejected. If the Utah State Engineer approves the application, and concludes the defined statutory administrative process in so doing, the Utah State Engineer’s approval could then be legally challenged in court. User and public protests to the City’s current application, within the noted time frame, are critically important to fully demonstrate full pursuit of administrative remedies, and preserve the possibility of any necessary legal challenge to the City/SRS change in POD, well drilling, and use of City groundwater resources for SRS purposes.
It is important for protestants to explain complaints about the change in POD application, the City-SRS agreement and any possible damages to their water rights interests, or concerns about depletion or damage to the subject groundwater aquifer, or related surface water seeps, springs, and streams as precisely as possible. So, what is questionable, or wrong about the agreement? And, what damage to the aquifer and surface waters are foreseeable?
The City’s application for the newly located SRS wells violate the City’s trust responsibility to its citizens and residents to supply sustainable water at reasonable cost.
Arguably, a city’s first responsibility in relation to the acquisition of water rights, and development of water sources and systems is to the taxpaying and resident citizens and businesses of said city. This is clearly one of the primary reasons for Utah State water law granting greater leeway and leniency for municipalities in the acquisition, use, and maintenance of water resources, in contrast to rules governing the use and maintenance of water rights by individual private parties. A primary example of this leniency of Utah State water law for municipalities/public water suppliers is the legal allowance for such entities to hold surplus, unused water rights, or portions of such water rights free of the regular use requirements applicable to other individual water right owners.
On paper, with the Utah State Engineer, the City of Kanab holds significant water rights and quantities unused to date, or “surplus” to current city needs. This paper record forms the basis of the City’s rationale that sufficient water exists to contract SRS use for mining operations at Red Knoll. However, substantial scientific evidence, and best scientific indications are at odds with the City’s willingness to provide the use of substantial quantities of unproven, “paper” based water rights to SRS. Even if our scientific knowledge of the extent, volume, and recharge rate of the groundwater aquifer is uncertain, providing water to a non-resident, industrial use, outside of the boundaries of the City is not worth the risk of endangering City residents’ use. And, doing so violates the trust responsibility of cities to their taxpaying residents within their boundaries, and supported by Utah State water law.
The City’s agreement to provide water to SRS violates Article XI, Section 6 of the Utah State Constitution.
Article XI, Section 6 of the Utah state Constitution prohibits the “lease”, sale or disposal of “water rights, or sources of water supply . . . owned or controlled by” “municipal corporation[s]” and states that all such “water rights and sources of water supply . . . “shall be preserved, maintained and operated by it [municipal corporations] for supplying its inhabitants with water.” [emphasis added]. Southern Red Sands LLC is not an inhabitant of Kanab City, and not envisioned within the constitutional vision and intent governing municipal trust responsibilities to municipal residents via municipal water ownership and management. Therefore, all protestants should point out that the City-SRS agreement, that is explained as the basis of the POD application, is unconstitutional.
The best scientific information and analysis does not support the proposition that diversions from the groundwater aquifer at the locations proposed are harmless to other existing water rights or water users, or the resources associated with the aquifer and associated surface waters; nor that unused City “paper” water rights are surplus to City needs.
There are no hydrologic studies that conclude that the local aquifer from which the City of Kanab and numerous other water rights holders draw their water, and which provide spring and seep discharge into Kanab Creek and its tributaries, including water to Kanab Irrigation Company shareholders, is capable of sustaining relocated, additional withdrawals as proposed by the City and SRS (and the KCWCD). Furthermore, the proposed SRS well sites and withdrawals “up-aquifer” of virtually all water rights holders and users, are likely to impact such other water rights holders and users, including City wells feeding Kanab proper and its residents.
The Kanab City Mayor and council members have clearly stated that their decision to execute the SRS agreement was based on their review of United States Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologic studies from the 1990’s and specifically, a 1992 study titled “SIMULATION OF GROUND-WATER FLOW AND WATER-LEVEL DECLINES THAT COULD BE CAUSED BY PROPOSED WITHDRAWALS, NAVAJO SANDSTONE, SOUTHWESTERN UTAH AND NORTHWESTERN ARIZONA” by Victor M. Heilweil and Geoffrey W. Freethey (USGS Rpt. 90-4105). That study is largely irrelevant to the capacity of the local Kanab aquifer. It was motivated by 1990’s proposals for a coal slurry pipeline to be built for Alton coal field development utilizing water from the “Navajo aquifer” and pumped from a point of diversion considerably north of the White Cliffs at a location known as Bald Knoll near the Alton coalfields. The “Navajo aquifer” and area studied and assessed was the entirety of the Navajo sandstone geologic layer between the western edge of Zion National Park (Hurricane Fault), and the Paria River on the east – a much larger area and potential aquifer than the local Kanab aquifer. The local Kanab aquifer can be roughly described as bounded by the Sevier Fault (or Yellowjacket Valley/Coral Pink Sand Dunes road on the west); the base of the White Cliffs on the north; Kanab Creek on the east; and, the foot of the Vermilion Cliffs on the south. The projections on aquifer capacity, and slurry line drawdown effects, discussed in the dated study are based on a much larger area, and much larger aquifer, and, therefore largely irrelevant to the local Kanab aquifer and impacts of the SRS withdrawals. Furthermore, the study did not take into account recharge rates of even the much larger “Navajo aquifer”, or geologic structural controls (faults, canyons, etc.) on flow of groundwater. In fact, the noted study states:
Because of the complexity of the ground-water system caused by a disruption of the lateral continuity of the aquifer by offset of several large south-trending faults, and because of the lack of wells in the area, direction and rate of movement of water in the Navajo Sandstone have not been conclusively defined. Thus, effects of withdrawals on ground-water levels within the study area cannot be determined precisely. (Id. at p.2. Emphasis added.)
The study also states:
The geometry of the Navajo aquifer is complicated by the large vertical offsets of the Sevier and Paunsaugunt Faults. Also, a joint pattern is present throughout the study area, but it is most pronounced in the western section near Zion National Park where the predominant orientation is north-northwest. These fractures, if open, may cause anisotropic flow conditions. (Id. at p. 46-47).
“Anisotropic flow” can be explained as flow that is different than uniform in all directions.
The City also requested some simple calculations by hydrologists with the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) regarding speculated drawdown effects from pumping at Red Knoll. The UGS information presented to the City was indeed simplistic, and based on assumptions of uniform groundwater flow and geologic structural controls in all directions from proposed wells. The UGS hydrologists (Hugh Hurlow and Paul Inkenbrandt) were honest about the limits of the information they were able to provide at the time. The City Council minutes from July 9 reflect their hesitancy in the City proceeding with approval of the agreement with the limited information available:
Mr. Inkerbrant [sic] emphasized this was not a study done but just a simple equation and basic pumping rates modeled. This didn’t take into consideration the recharge rate, fractures or the Sevier fault. More would have to be done if you wanted to get accurate numbers, he wouldn’t use that chart to make decisions. (Kanab City Council Minutes – Mtg. of July 9, 2019).
Arguably, the most detailed and comprehensive study of the local Kanab aquifer is being prepared by Dr. Kenneth Kolm, PhD., Hydrologic Systems Analysis, LLC, and Paul van der Heijde, Heath Hydrology, Inc.. Dr. Kolm provided a public presentation summarizing this preliminary work, and attended by City Council members and staff on July 8, 2019. His study goes a step further than previous work in assessing the local aquifer in relation to wells, seeps, springs, and surface streams, aquifer recharge rates, and subsurface geologic structural controls on flow. A final assessment by Dr. Kolm and his associates is pending – to be completed soon. Even his preliminary work highlighted many reasons to be concerned about withdrawals, relocated well sites, and recharge rates of the local Kanab aquifer, as influenced by the hydrogeology of the area.
In addition to relying upon the largely irrelevant and dated USGS study, in its decision-making process on the SRS agreement, the City also relied on testimony presented not by professionally trained hydrologists, but by civil engineers contracted by SRS and the City. They ignored the professional and experienced information provided by Dr. Kolm, and the limitations of information compiled and admitted by the UGS hydrologists, and rolled the dice on protection of the aquifer so important to city residents, other water rights holders, Kanab Irrigation Company shareholders, and conservation of natural resources. They even passed over an offer by UGS hydrologist, Paul Inkenbrandt “to interpret other studies that have been done and work with the other hydrologists to give the best information to the City.” (Kanab City Council Minutes – Mtg. of July 9, 2019).
It is imminently arguable, if not clear, that the best scientific information available supports the conclusion that relocated wells at Red Knoll put the local aquifer, water rights holders and users – including the City itself, Kanab Irrigation Company shareholders, and natural resources at risk. On this basis as well as the illegalities of the City’s actions, the Utah State Engineer should deny the change in point of diversion application(s).
Again, it is critical that anyone who would potentially be affected by the proposed change in point of diversion applied for by the City protest the application with the Utah State Engineer, Water Rights Division by Wednesday, October 2.
• Request a public hearing by the Utah Division of Water Rights.
• Protest the City’s application as illegal – prohibited by the Utah State Constitution.
• Protest the City’s application on the basis that relocation of point of diversion (new wells at Red Knoll) is likely to affect the groundwater aquifer, based on the best scientific evidence available, and consequently affect existing water rights (including the City’s), City resident beneficiaries of City water rights, groundwater seeps and springs feeding surface water flow in Kanab Creek and its tributaries, natural resources, and individual’s enjoyment and use of water resources and other connected natural resources.
Water rights holders and Kanab Irrigation Company shareholders
• Make certain to detail the specific endangerment of your water rights, or in the case of Irrigation Company shareholders, impact on Kanab Creek and your shareholder benefits and use.
Protests can be filed online at https://waterrights.utah.gov/hpp/protestOfApplication.asp. Protests can also be mailed to Division of Water Rights, P.O. Box 146300, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6300; or be hand carried to the Division of Water Rights office. There is a protest filing fee of $15 per protest (an amount worth investing to protect Kanab’s water).
This is your chance to be heard and make a difference!
(John Hiscock is a retired National Park Service manager, having held numerous park land management positions and assignments over his career. He frequently dealt with water rights, hydrologic research, and water system operations, public land law, and resource management. He holds a Juris Doctor degree in law from the University of Utah, and a B.A. in History from the University of California. He has been published in various periodicals throughout his career.)