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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Highland and American Fork are in a bidding war for water shares in the American Fork Irrigation Co., and Highland reportedly is winning.
With an upcoming election of the American Fork Irrigation Co. board, more shares means more voting power for Highland, which has never been able to place anyone on the board.
Over the past year, the price of water shares in the American Fork Irrigation Co., a private corporation organized to oversee the allocation of irrigation water, has risen about $1,000, said board member Grant Leonard.
Anyone may purchase shares of water in the irrigation company, as those shares are made available by current owners. Right now Highland is paying about $700 more per share, he said.
"Highland is going out and actively purchasing water at a higher amount than American Fork is paying," Leonard said. "I see the certificate transfer to Highland in nearly every case."
While water shares are available on the open market, cities have an advantage in acquiring the shares as they may require developers to turn over a certain number of shares to get their projects approved.
The cities then have the water available for the new homes. But the cities are active in the market to buy the shares, as well.
"If they're available and it's for the right price, we'll buy them," said Barry Edwards, Highland city manager.
Some in American Fork fear the city is giving away control of a resource that was intended for its residents.
"There's a lot of people very concerned about it," said City Council member lc Belmont.
A document signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 granted rights of the water that runs through American Fork Canyon to the city.
At that time, residents in the Highland area used American Fork irrigation water for about 800 acres and the rest of the water was allocated for American Fork users.
The irrigation company was set up to provide management of the water resources by the shareholders apart from city government.
Leonard, speaking for himself and not the board, said he wonders if 800 acres is all that Highland should be allowed to use through the American Fork irrigation water.
American Fork City Manager Carl Wanlass said the buying and selling of shares is not something the city can control, since the irrigation company is independent. American Fork can only purchase shares, the same as any other city, developer or resident, he said.
"It's not just American Fork city that that water was dedicated for," Wanlass said.
Two new board members are to be picked at a time when the board will be considering a piping project proposed near the mouth of American Fork Canyon.
The water runs through an open channel and about 20 percent -- $2.5 million worth -- is lost through evaporation and seepage.
Highland has suggested it would pay to pipe the section for about $880,000 in return for use of some of the water that would be saved.
Leonard said he thinks the board should pipe it so that the extra water could benefit all shareholders.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)