DOE: Commercial water access not feasible at UMTRA site
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Jul 10, 2014 | 1035 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Contractors currently use this pumping station along the Colorado River north of Moab. But city and county officials say that access to the site is no longer safe. They’re hoping to find another pumping location along the river that could provide oil, gas and potash contractors with better access to non-culinary water sources. Photo by Rudy Herndon
Contractors currently use this pumping station along the Colorado River north of Moab. But city and county officials say that access to the site is no longer safe. They’re hoping to find another pumping location along the river that could provide oil, gas and potash contractors with better access to non-culinary water sources. Photo by Rudy Herndon
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The Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) site may have seemed like a logical first place to look for commercial access to Colorado River water.

But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) informed local officials late last month that it cannot approve a formal request to open its existing water filling station to commercial water trucks.

Don Metzler, DOE federal project director for the Moab site, told The Times-Independent that he determined the request is not feasible, due to concerns about employee safety, site security and potential impacts to project operations.

“I just realized there were just too many reasons why this wouldn’t be a safe practice,” he said.

The Grand County Council asked Metzler to look into the idea in response to community-wide concerns about the use of culinary water for oil, gas and potash projects near Moab.

Although some contractors already collect industrial-quality water from a boat dock along the Colorado River, city and county officials say truck access to that site is no longer safe, following improvements to nearby U.S. 191.

“That’s [one] reason why we liked the DOE site, because the stuff is all in place there,” Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said.

Other potential water-pumping sites may be available farther downstream but all of them appear to be located on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, and Jackson — a retired BLM employee — expects that it could take years to open one of those areas to commercial activities.

“That’s a long, drawn-out process, for sure,” Jackson said.

In the wake of the DOE’s decision, Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison is hoping to begin that process as soon as possible. He said he will try to work something out with the BLM to find a potential location along Potash Road.

“I think a water filling station there would be absolutely perfect,” Sakrison said.

He said he believes the city and county must do something to tackle pressing concerns about culinary water being used for drilling activities.

Jackson agrees.

“We’d still rather not have them use that if there are alternatives,” he said.

Sakrison said he thought the request to use the UMTRA site was a long shot to begin with, and he understands Metzler’s concerns.

“I think he brought up some very legitimate reasons why they couldn’t do it,” Sakrison said.

Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency General Manager Mark Sovine, who first brought up the idea during an April 22 meeting with Metzler and others, said he also understands the DOE’s position.

“While I’m a little bit disappointed, I’m not surprised,” Sovine said. “It is a federal project, and we were looking for services that are not federal services.”

Jackson, however, said he’s “very disappointed” by the DOE’s decision. He thinks that local officials could have worked with the DOE to come up with some viable alternatives that addressed the agency’s concerns.

“It’s possible, if they’d worked with us, that we could have found some alternative access to the site,” Jackson said.

Metzler said he typically makes every effort to accommodate a community’s requests. But after he took a closer look at this request, Metzler said he feared it would set a precedent for commercial activities at other DOE project sites.

“DOE as an agency of the federal government that is funded through taxpayer dollars must be cautious in its agreements with private entities that do not directly support this mission,” he wrote.

Above all else, Metzler voiced concerns about safety.

Access to the DOE’s water load-out facility could only be managed through the main entrance and other active areas on site, he wrote.

“The influx of outside truck traffic interacting with on-site traffic and pedestrians poses unacceptable safety hazards,” he wrote. “This situation would be even worse if multiple commercial water trucks arrive at roughly the same time to be filled...”

Commercial use could also strain the project’s water needs during warmer months, jeopardizing the DOE’s ability to control blowing dust on the site, he wrote.

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