A day after Utah and Nevada officials released a proposed Snake Valley water-sharing deal, the Millard County Commission sharpened its attack on the plan and a conservation group sent a public-records request seeking insight into secret negotiations.
On Thursday, Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike Styler said the draft agreement with Nevada would divide equally the water in the west desert valley that hasn't already been allocated.
Millard County adamantly disagreed Friday in a 3-page letter outlining its discontent with the proposal, which the commission says gives away too much Utah water and isn't at all equitable.
"They've deliberately misled the public to create the false illusion that there's a 50-50 split," said Mark Ward, a Utah Association of Counties attorney speaking on behalf of Millard County.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to build a 285-mile pipeline that would ship water to Las Vegas from Snake Valley, which lies mostly in Utah, along with water from other Nevada valleys that form the Great Salt Lake groundwater flow system. A 2004 federal law says the two states must agree on how to share Snake Valley water.
The agreement proposes to split 132,000 acre-feet of water the U.S. Geological Survey estimated is available in Snake Valley, with 66,000 acre-feet a year going to each state as long as stringent conditions are met. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, enough water to cover an acre of land with a foot of water or supply up to two households for a year.
The total amount of water in the calculation includes 55,000 acre-feet already allocated in Utah. But there's a problem: 20,000 of those acre-feet are Utah water rights dedicated to Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, which isn't in the Snake Valley basin. That means the split would really be 59 percent to 41 percent in favor of Nevada, Millard County officials say.
The Great Basin Water Network on Friday filed a request seeking all records associated with the negotiation and drafting of the agreement. Network spokesman Steve Erickson said the group wants to know what went on behind the scenes with the negotiations during the past four years.
"The secrecy gag imposed on Utah's negotiators by the Southern Nevada Water Authority should never have been agreed to," he said. "It's cut out not only those of us who are concerned about the future of Snake Valley, it's cut out legislators and county commissioners."
Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, said Friday he hadn't yet seen the proposal, but was concerned about the kind of groundwater mining that has left water-rights holders in his district holding millions of dollars in investments reliant on water that doesn't exist.
Though the Snake Valley proposal is based on 132,000 acre-feet per year, "suppose there isn't that much water over there?" Stowell said.
The Las Vegas plan would siphon the water away and inevitably harm vegetation and wildlife, he said. "We mine water in some of our valleys in Utah and we lower the water table. We mine that area and the springs dry up," Stowell said. "But we've always used the water on the top of the same ground. We may not have the meandering stream anymore, but we retain the water."
Rep. Brad Winn, R-Ephraim, said he saw the draft proposal on Tuesday -- Gov. Gary Herbert's inauguration day -- during a session Styler held for legislative leaders. Winn said he generally agrees with Millard County's concerns.
"From the beginning, these negotiations have been confidential, so of course there has been a lot of anxiety by the locals, who end up having to live with the decision," Winn said. "My concern at this point is we have plenty of opportunity for public response. I trust that will take place."
Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said Styler and his counterpart, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Allen Biaggi, will separately review public comment received during four hearings scheduled for next week.
Aug. 17 » 1 p.m., Baker, Nev., Baker School auditorium
Aug. 17» 7 p.m., Delta, Utah, Millard County fair building, 81 Manzanita Ave.
Aug. 18 »10 a.m., Salt Lake City, Department of Environmental Quality Building 2, 168 N. 1950 West
Aug. 20 » 9 a.m., Las Vegas, Southern Nevada Water Authority Board meeting, Molasky Corporate Center Suite 700, 100 City Parkway.
To see the proposal: http://www.waterrights.utah.gov