Four organizations protest water application for development outside of Moab

BLM, development watch group among those challenging attempt to alter a large water right.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Colorado River flows next to Kane Creek Boulevard in Moab on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Moab • Four separate groups including the Bureau of Land Management have protested a water right change application for a forthcoming development on Kane Creek Boulevard.

The application with the Utah Division of Water Rights aims to change the use of a large water right from irrigation and stock watering to municipal use, and draw the water from groundwater wells rather than the Colorado River, which is the current point of diversion.

The water right is listed as 1.86 cubic feet per second or about 423 acre-feet.

But protests from a local community group, a nonprofit and a business allege that the right itself ought to be forfeited “due to an extended period of nonuse.” Per state code a water right that hasn’t been used for seven years is subject to forfeiture.

Bob Phillips, the former director of the Moab Mosquito Abatement District, declared in one of the protests that between 1994 and 2016, he witnessed little to no use of the water right. At the time, the right was mainly slated for irrigation, stock water and campsites.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction on the Colorado River on the site of that was previously the Kane Creek Campground near Moab, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024.

“Except for one small personal garden watered from a well or spring, I never saw anyone attempt to irrigate or grow anything anywhere on the property,” Phillips said in a press release from Kane Creek Development Watch.

That group, which formed this year to oppose the 580-unit development intended for the Colorado River corridor along Kane Creek Boulevard, filed a protest March 27 through Clyde Snow & Sessions, a Salt Lake City-based law firm.

Intrepid Potash and the nonprofit Living Rivers also filed protests arguing the water right is subject to forfeiture and therefore can’t undergo a change application.

The fourth protest, from the Bureau of Land Management, took a different tack in alleging that the application, if approved, would imperil the agency’s own water rights.

If the development’s owner Kane Creek Preservation and Development drills new wells, the protest reads, about a dozen nearby springs and streams that mainly support livestock grazing and wildlife on BLM land could dry up.

“Pumping could reduce the overall amount of groundwater in storage in the Navajo Formation aquifer underlying the Behind the Rocks area, lowering groundwater levels in the aquifer” reads the protest filed by Cameron Johnson, counsel for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In addition to constructing 580 residences and overnight-accommodation units, the Kane Creek development is envisioned to include up to 72,000 square feet of commercial space on mesas and lowlands several miles west of Moab along the Colorado River.

The development acquired new visibility this winter as crews started placing hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of infill on the lowlands by the Colorado River to raise land out of the floodplain.

An attorney for Kane Creek Preservation and Development could not immediately be reached for comment.

This is a developing story and may be updated.

This story was first published by The Times-Independent.