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EDEN, Weber County — A recent water study in the Weber Basin found that it's unlikely existing sources will provide much additional water. But an engineer says that doesn't mean it's impossible for the area to grow.
Scott Paxman — general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District — said that since a July 20 meeting when the groundwater study that engineering firm Bowen Collins & Associates helped the county conduct was presented to the public, the county has been receiving a number of comments from residents who believe all development should stop.
"That was not the message," Paxman said. "The message was (that) for a large project ... groundwater is not a good option. But we're not saying that homebuilding needs to stop, that developments need to stop. They just need to be considered carefully ... as they proceed."
The groundwater study, which Paxman said began about a year ago, proposes three alternatives for new water supply to the Ogden Valley: new groundwater development, agricultural conversion and imported water rights.
New groundwater development is not recommended, according to a July presentation available on the firm's website, because although effective wells could likely be drilled in the southeast area of the valley, water rights don't exist for those sources.
Additionally, any new wells would be competing for water with existing city wells in Ogden, the firm's presentation says.
The second option, agricultural conversion, is likely to be an unviable option, the information continues. This is because although development in irrigated areas could result in new water, regional leadership wants to preserve agriculture. There is also sufficient unirrigated land to develop all projected future growth if lot size is limited, the firm says.
"For planning purposes, (we) need to consider (the) possibility of little to no ag conversion," according to the presentation.
For the third option, imported water, the firm says the maximum need for imported water occurs when lot sizes average 0.2 acres. At this size, the need for imported water in the area would be 5,350 acre-feet (one acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons).
The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District "likely has sufficient water rights available to provide imported water at this volume," the presentation states.
Bowen Collins & Associates also listed four potential water development options.
The first is creating new production wells in Ogden Valley, but Paxman said that isn't feasible because the water just isn't available.
The second, partnering with Ogden to use its wells, isn't likely to happen because the city is counting on that supply for its own future growth, Paxman said.
The third, tapping Pineview Reservoir, would get expensive quickly due to federal requirements, he said.
The fourth, a diversion and treatment plan, is what the firm recommended to the city. It would involve diverting water off of South Fork Creek and putting it through a water treatment facility before pumping it to storage facilities around the valley.
A breakdown of expenses for this option shows a total cost of $64,035,088.
Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins said the county doesn't have that kind of money right now, which is why the commission is exploring funding options before making decisions about how to proceed.
He also said the misconception around this study is that there's not enough water.
"The fact of the matter is there's plenty of water in the upper valley. It just depends on who owns it," Jenkins said.
Paxman added that the current drought has a lot to do with why the valley's groundwater isn't getting replenished.
"By bringing a surface water into the valley, we could, one, provide options for people to connect to that surface water pipeline instead of drilling a well or trying to get additional sources from the ground," he said. "And then, two ... future growth would all be supplied from the surface water project instead of future groundwater."
Community members can submit comments about the project at Bowen Collins & Associates' website.
Correction: An earlier version misidentified Scott Paxman as an engineer with Bowen Collins & Associates; Paxman is the general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.