Saving the Drops: The water future for Iron County

By Dawn Aerts

Iron County Today

How much would you pay for a gallon of water, or a glass?

Water resources and good planning has always been on the mind of Leon Hyatt, an adept authority on everything from hydraulics and civil engineering, to understanding distribution systems and the complexities of water-management. Over the past 48 years, he has poured himself into those issues; and those that spill over into conservation, water rights and the ongoing efforts to achieve water quality and quantity.

“I like visionaries,” said Hyatt of his work with Ralph Platt who was known for his expertise with the Kolob Canyon Reservoir. “Those who planned 70 years ago saw to it that Cedar City had streets, water and sewer systems that would be needed into the future. But living in Southern Utah, we have to be very zealous about water and it’s clear we just don’t have enough.”

According to Hyatt, re-charging aquifers and implementing pipeline agreements will continue to challenge government, agricultural stakeholders and thirsty communities.  “The problem with these projects is that it can take 20 years from the first concept to turning on the faucet. And, we’re just not moving fast enough.”

In 1997, he became one of the original board members on the newly-formed Central Iron County Water Conservancy District Board (CICWCD).  This has given him a unique view on how to best address environmental concerns in the face of increased population and countywide development.

“We know there are deficits, that we are mining our ground-water aquifer,” said Hyatt of the 20,000 acre feet use of water on average, in recent years.  “So the CICWCD has had everything on the table looking for possible solutions to problems – that’s with flood mitigation work and Coal Creek water that was diverted for recharging.”

In the 1970s and well into the ‘90s, Hyatt worked with engineer firms, university and joint research studies, and for one year, with the National Water Commission, in Washington, D.C., established legislatively by the U.S. Congress to look at all nationwide water resources. According to Hyatt, the Lake Powell Pipeline project is estimated to cost $1.8 billion to complete but would only have made sense as a last-resort option:  Iron County passed on inclusion in that project two years ago. Still, the county will have to address issues driven by a population jump from 14,500 in 1990 to more than 30,000 plus residents today.

“We’ve been mining this aquifer since the 1930s — mining 6,000 to 8,000 acre feet (af) of water more than we were able to recharge,” said Hyatt of the 2014 CICWCD agency filing that provided ‘right to import’ up to 6,525 af from Wah Wah and 15,000 af from Pine Valley.  The pipeline-to-come will also run through 27 water districts and the town of Lund before it comes to Cedar City, Enoch and Kanarraville.

In short, Hyatt is not optimistic about the timetable ahead.  His experience as chief hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, with the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, the Water Quality Administration (Denver, Col.,) and in Washington, D.C., tells him that time is mostly a frustrating factor.

“Environmental impact statements and plans are needed; preliminary-to-final designs, the Bureau of Land Management approved corridors, public hearings and multiple agencies involved in contracts, conveyance, and placement of tanks — all while trying to meet EPA regulations at the state and federal level.”

According to Hyatt, deficits will continue to affect city and agricultural uses with unknown levels of (future) precipitation.  “Studies clearly show us that up to 80 percent of water resources are agricultural in use, so water conservation has to be one of the answers, and predictably, the price of water will always curtail usage.”

In recent years, the agriculture community has turned its attention to add drip systems and switching to other (less water dependent) crop alternatives.  Other options considered by the CICWCD can reserve enough water to get Iron County within equilibrium use: to include water rights reduction; conservation, pricing, restoration/reuse of sewer water and putting together a practical, long-term plan.

“There are red flags out there,” says Hyatt of the dry Rush Lake Pond that he says all but disappeared sometime between 1960 and 1980. “We will need to involve the public in that important conversation, so they know what’s going on…and all of that requires time.”



Caption:  Leon Hyatt is a renowned water resource professional who understands the complexity of bringing communities, stakeholders, agriculture, local government, state and federal agencies together to ensure that water will continue to flow into local fields and through water faucets in Iron County.



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