GWSSA miffed over Town Hall snub
'County is out of the loop'
by Zenaida Sengo
The Times-Independent
Nov 08, 2018 | 1734 views | 0 0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The La Sal Mountains show an early but dwindling coat of snow in a backdrop of the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. October storms dropped nearly three inches of precipitation across southeastern Utah, according to state statistics.       Photo by Doug McMurdo
The La Sal Mountains show an early but dwindling coat of snow in a backdrop of the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. October storms dropped nearly three inches of precipitation across southeastern Utah, according to state statistics. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency held a full board meeting Thursday, Nov. 1 and members voiced annoyance at not being invited to a recent joint Town Hall meeting featuring the Grand County and City of Moab councils in which residents raised the issue of water – and they took out their frustration on Grand County Council Vice Chair Curtis Wells.

“Curtis wanted to know if it was possible if he could ask ... to perhaps put a discussion item on the future agenda,” said agency Manager Dana Van Horn.

GWSSA Board Member Rex Tanner asked, “Why weren’t we invited to that meeting if they’re discussing water? It seems that the county’s not in the water business ... what does the county know about water? The county’s way out of the loop. We can’t even get the county councilman to come to the meeting.”

GWSSA Board Chair Gary Wilson echoed, “The county is way out of the loop.”

Tanner asked, “How can you hold a meeting to discuss such an important issue as water and not invite the entity that controls half of this valley, and actually, we may be getting to the point where we’ve got more customers than the city’s got, so – I’m a little offended – and I think everybody else should be [given] all the work we put in regarding the issue and we’re not even in on the discussion?”

Though water concerns were mentioned a handful of times at the Oct. 30 Town Hall meeting before a joint panel of city and county council members and Mayor Emily Niehaus, it wasn’t specifically listed on the agenda, but rather, came up as residents were allowed to speak and council members responded. Despite the fact water was one of several topics discussed at the town hall, water board members sought immediate action.

GWSSA Board Member Dale Weiss said, “I think we should put it (Town Hall water topics) on next week’s agenda.”

“Make it happen,” said Wilson.

Here’s how the Town Hall issue began: A Grand County resident who attended the Oct. 30 meeting spoke in response to an assertion that local hotels should have limited flow in their showers. He wondered why there wasn’t an immediate and dramatic reduction in water use mandated following a study that determined a couple of years ago that there was half the amount of water than was thought.

In response to that topic at the Town Hall meeting, and an overall concern for water availability in a growing economy, Wells complimented the water board and encouraged people to attend its meetings. He also said, “This is going to continue to be a big issue, naturally, and I serve as Grand County’s liaison to the Water and Special Services District … I always say it’s the most serious board in the community, because they really, no offense, they really handle business, he told the Town Hall audience. Even if we disagree on climate issues or whatever, the facts are the facts… and we all agree that we need to monitor the water laws”

Discussion on water topics has been scheduled for the agency’s Nov. 15 meeting with Moab City Council Member and agency representative Mike Duncan at the Water District Office, 3025 E. Spanish Trail Road.

Forecast looks for El Nino

State water officials report that Utah saw a 160 percent increase in precipitation in October. The recent monthly climate and water report posted numbers ranging from 124 percent to 303 percent precipitation levels, and averaging 160 percent across Utah, including snowpack numbers at high elevation sites. southeastern Utah received nearly three inches of precipitation last month.

“We’re starting out nicely and hoping to see continued increase in snowpack as we progress into the new water year,” said Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The report provides a snapshot of current and immediate past climatic

conditions and other information useful to agricultural and water user interests in Utah. It utilizes data from several sources that represent specific parameters including stream flows, reservoir amounts, geography, snowpack and soil moisture. This information can be used to increase irrigation efficiency and agricultural production.

“What a different a (water) year makes! Utah’s valley locations received a whopping 2.6 inches of precipitation on average in October. The only benefit to the drought, is that had soil

moisture levels been higher, last month’s storms could have produced more serious flooding,” said a press release from the agency.

“Needless to say, soil moisture levels rose rapidly during the month from very low to above

normal levels. Soil moisture conditions in the Western and Dixie region are the driest, as the

area received the least monthly precipitation at 1.8 inches. Southeast Utah, perhaps the area

most affected by drought, received 2.8 inches of precipitation, which, if the trend continues,

will help the area dig out from its “exceptional drought” (D4) status. Overall, soil moisture levels

are better than this time last year. Both soil and air temperatures are now trending slightly

below normal, down from much higher than normal at the beginning of the month.”

The water year of 2018 ended with a whimper but 2019 started with a bang, officials said. “Precipitation in October was a welcome relief from the prior three months of hot, dry, and smoky weather. October precipitation across the state ranged from 124 percent on the Bear River to 303 percent on the Lower Sevier Basin, bringing the state precipitation average to 160 percent. We’ve started to accumulate snow at our high elevation sites and, thanks to recent storm activity, soil moisture values have increased significantly to 60 percent across the state. The not so good news is that most reservoirs are 10-20 percent lower than normal this time of year due to heavy use over the summer months. “

The seasonal climate outlook from the Climate Prediction Center suggests an El Niño will form over the next couple months and continue throughout the winter which will improve chances for above-normal precipitation in the south and equal chances in

northern Utah. “Now what we really need is a nice big snowpack to pay back our water debt

with interest (fingers crossed) and with saturated soils going into the winter months an

improved springtime runoff efficiency would certainly help make the payments,” the press release said.

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