The Grand County Council has agreed to lend its support to efforts by the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency to potentially reduce the flow of water into Mill Creek by diverting more water into Ken’s Lake during the winter months.
By a 5-1 vote, the council agreed on June 18 to provide GWSSA with a letter of support addressed to Bureau of Land Management officials. The BLM and GWSSA have a long-standing operating agreement regarding Mill Creek stream flow requirements.
That operating agreement, which has been in place since 1979, mandates that a minimum flow of 3 cubic feet per second remain in Mill Creek below the Sheley Tunnel, which diverts water from the creek into Ken’s Lake.
GWSSA Manager Mark Sovine, who said he received a similar letter of support from San Juan County Commissioners last week, indicated he plans to meet with BLM officials next week to negotiate a possible change to the Mill Creek operating agreement that would allow more water to be diverted into Ken’s Lake during the wintertime, thereby giving the reservoir a better start on each water year.
“We still don’t know what’s going to happen, but now we can sit down and have some discussions,” said Sovine, whose meeting with local BLM officials is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25.
Grand County Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, who cast the only dissenting vote at the meeting, said that while she didn’t necessarily object to the idea of GWSSA and the BLM opening up discussions regarding the issue, she didn’t like the idea that the language of the letter indicated the county was, in effect, supporting a reduction in Mill Creek flows.
A draft of the council’s letter that was provided at the meeting states that the council “strongly support[s] the [GWSSA]’s request.” The draft also states: “The Council agrees with the Agency’s proposal to increase the wintertime flows from Mill Creek into Ken’s Lake. This would allow more water into the lake prior to the beginning of runoff and the irrigation season, and should have minimal impact on Glen Canyon aquifer recharge or impacts to stream temperature.”
However, Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson pointed out that the council’s action isn’t binding.
“We don’t have the authority to make any changes,” Jackson said. “We’re just offering our support.”
A handful of citizens weighed in with their concerns regarding the issue during the citizen comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Bill Love, a Spanish Valley resident who has been an outspoken critic of the plan, said reducing the Mill Creek stream flows is likely to harm the ability of the underground aquifer to replenish itself during the winter. If the porous sandstone under the creek bed dries out due to little or no water flowing in the creek, the Glen Canyon Aquifer won’t be able to recharge properly, Love said.
“Culinary water is far more important than growing hay or watering a golf course,” Love added.
Love has previously cited multiple studies highlighting the importance of Mill Creek as it relates to the area’s culinary water supply.
Chris Baird, a former member county council member, said the GWSSA and other entities should be focusing on water conservation efforts, rather than looking to other tap alternative water sources. He said that while impact on the aquifer is “inconclusive,” officials should err on the side of caution.
“We don’t know how it’s going to impact the aquifer,” agreed Moab City Engineer Rebecca Andrus, who also voiced her concerns at the meeting.
Castle Valley Mayor Dave Erley also urged caution. “This is a huge resource, and it should be a big community decision,” Erley told council members. “Not done by some back-door approach.”
But Jackson said the council is simply offering support for the discussions between GWSSA and BLM to begin.
“We’re not trying to back-door anyone,” he said. “We’re just offering our support, so that they can take a look at the situation. We’re blessed with a beautiful hydrological system.”