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Another group in southwest Utah wants water rights deep underground

Enterprise Reservoir, Washington County, Oct. 5, 2021
Lexi Peery
/
KUER
Enterprise Reservoir in Washington County in October 2021. A company in the region wants to drill 115 deep wells in the hopes of accessing more water.

A private company in southwest Utah has filed a water rights application for an underground aquifer in Iron County. This comes after water managers in neighboring Washington County applied for something similar.

This application is for 115 wells that would be up to 5,500 feet deep. They would be scattered in southern Iron County, near Beryl Junction, with some in Washington by Enterprise. Escalante Valley Partners, LLC wants the state engineer’s approval and estimates a possible yield of over 50,000 acre-feet of water a year. An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover an acre of land in one foot of water.

Members of the group were not available for comment but sent a statement to KUER. They said they’re following the lead of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, which filed an application in April to drill 18 wells in the hopes of getting almost 13,000 acre-feet of water annually. Nearly 80 protests were filed against the application, including from the Department of the Interior and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For both requests, it’s unclear if there’s water underground available and unallocated.

“If … the deeper aquifers are determined to be connected to existing underground water rights, then Escalante Valley Partners, LLC won’t pursue its application,” the group said in the statement.

Steve Erickson, a board member with the environmental group Great Basin Water Network, said it makes sense why these kinds of applications are being filed given the historic drought and Utah’s fast-growing population.

“It's not like we begrudge people taking leaps of faith here and there,” he said. “It's just that we've got a lot of hard groundwork to do in terms of how we grow in this state in the face of all of this changing environment that we live in.”

The region could be doing more to conserve water, he said, and “grapple with the reality of global climate change” and how that’s impacting the state.

In 2012, the state engineer created a groundwater management plan for the Beryl Enterprise area, where Escalante Valley Partners, LLC is looking to drill. It limits withdrawals to a safe yield — before the plan people were using much more than that. Most of the area is closed to new appropriations, but the Division of Water Rights will review change applications from existing water rights holders for new diversions and uses.

Escalante Valley Partners, LLC, said the group includes many water users in the area who already have underground water rights. They said the management plan reduces water diversions in the basin from over 100,000 acre-feet to nearly 60,000 over the next 100 years. The reduction they’re facing is the water rights they’re looking for in their current application.

Erickson is concerned about how this application, as well as Iron County’s proposed Pine Valley Water Supply Project, would impact groundwater flows that connect with the Great Salt Lake’s system. The proposed project involves a series of wells and a pipeline that would pull water from outside of the county.

“It's highly unlikely that we're discovering some new aquifers or deep aquifers that we don't already know exist,” he said. “Likely they're connected to those that we've studied more.”

The application is open for protest until June 22. After that, the state engineer may hold a hearing before analyzing the request.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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