Improve stream flows to support endangered species, provide alternative revenue to irrigators and protect water rights from abandonment.
The Price River Basin is a significant drainage basin of the Wasatch Plateau and Book Cliffs in east-central Utah. The Basin’s approximately 1,900 square miles vary from mountainous landscapes to desert canyons. The Price River flows from Scofield Reservoir near the headwaters to a confluence with the Green River and ultimately to the Colorado River. Monthly flows of the Price River are typical for a snowmelt-driven river system in the Western U.S., with spring runoff peaks and monsoon rainstorms in late summer. Annual streamflow volumes in the Price River show a long-term average of 79,000 acre-feet per year; however, more recent data since 2001 shows a reduced flow volume of 52,000 acre-feet per year.
Local water users were interested in testing Utah’s new Water Banking Act to see if a Water Bank could be used as a permanent water marketing tool. The water users, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Price River Water Users Association (who did not ultimately participate), and the Carbon Canal Company sought to explore a voluntary and compensated fallowing program. The program needed to improve stream flows in the lower Price River to support the recovery of threatened and endangered fish species and provide local irrigators with an alternative revenue source while protecting their water rights against abandonment.
The parties began drafting a leasing contract and determined that since Carbon Canal Company is a shareholder-owned mutual irrigation company, arrangements would be made directly with the Company, not individual shareholders. Individual shareholders would be required to work through the company.
The parties worked with the Price River Watershed Conservation District, a local public entity that offered to act as the water bank applicant as required by statute, and the Division of Water Resources staff to create a Contract Water Bank Application form and approval process. The parties modeled the process based on the existing Board of Water Resources loan program process with which water users and the Board of Water Resources are familiar.
As Utah’s first water bank Change Application, the parties encountered several challenges. For instance, while the State Engineer had been involved in the discussions, distributing the consumptive portion of a water right in an area with limited telemetry and little existing flow data proved difficult to assess and slowed the approval process.