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SALT LAKE CITY -- Parts of Utah have more water rights than
water, which has allowed pumping to exceed the natural recharging of
aquifers and could force curbs on water rights, the state engineer
In a speech to the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, state Engineer
Jerry Olds said areas that will likely be hardest hit include Salt
Lake, Davis and western Iron counties along with the Milford area in
Much of the overallocation of water rights occurred during the
late 1940s and early 1950s as Utah developed much of its current
water resources. Officials had limited aquifer data at that time,
``They overshot in some cases,'' Olds said. He said the state now
has a better handle on how much water is actually left in Utah's
Determining how best to administer existing water rights based on
the overallocations likely means changes in water law, including
reallocating some rights.
``This could have far-reaching ramifications,'' Olds said.
Wes Clinton, vice president for public policy for the farm bureau,
said there is ``no question'' that such reallocations and law changes
will affect agriculture. Farmers have large investments in equipment
and land that could be hurt if water rights are curtailed.
``The question is how and who should take on the burden (of such
changes),'' Clinton said. ``Who gets cut back? Will it be by
appropriation first in time, first in right or by proportion, where
every farmer takes a hit?''
Olds said the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee
will be asked to address the topic later this year.
The area around Hill Air Force Base in northern Davis County is
showing the largest aquifer decline in Utah, while the Milford area
also shows steep declines, Olds said. Salt Lake Valley is
overallocated by six times, he added.
Western Iron County poses special problems in groundwater
management with 80,000 acre feet pumped -- having been pumped from
local aquifers each year and replaced by just more than 33,000 acre
feet of water annually over the past 10 years, Olds said. Farmers
hold rights for the water, but the area is overallocated, Olds said.
Because of the drought, Olds has issued a cut-off order on water
rights dated after 1865 that allowed water users to draw directly
from the Weber River. He cited that as an example of how water rights
work in Utah. As more water becomes available, those rights will be
restored. In the meantime, irrigation and water companies that draw
from the Weber River will have to temporarily use other sources, he
Olds is also troubled by the lack of money available for water
rights enforcement. He cited one example of a farmer who has exceeded
his water rights by more than 90 acre feet annually in recent years.
Prosecuting that case could cost as much as $30,000 to force the
farmer to stop.
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