Centerfield Water Board reviews water management ordinances
By Ben Lassetter
CENTERFIELD—The recently formed Centerfield Water Board is reviewing water management ordinances as part of a long-term initiative to offset future drought problems.
Six members began compiling data in December on water shares that people in town owned and rented in 2020. This, according to committee leader and city councilman Jaden Sorenson, is their best way to find out how much water was used and how they can plan for more efficient usage in 2021. Some ideas included redefining requirements for how much water landowners must purchase and requiring water meters in the future.
Sorenson said the goal, overall, is to “make sure our irrigation system works for all residents, and that includes the farmers; so they all get a delivery and can use what they’re entitled to.” That entails determining whether water-users are staying within their allotments.
Sorenson and board member Rex Brown said the data suggested one reason the city ran out of water and had to ration usage last year was that some residents had used more of it than their shares allotted. As of last week, they were still working to find out how about 250 shares were used last year in order to find ways to offer more shares this year.
In order to lawfully use irrigation water from the city reservoir, Centerfield land-owners rent water shares from the city or own them. Shares represent authorization to use portions of what is available in the city water storage, which comes largely from a watershed in the northern part of county, Twelvemile Canyon drainage and the San Pitch River.
In an average year, one water share equates to about half an acre-foot of water. Last year, a share only amounted to 0.15 acre-feet in Centerfield, according to Sorenson, which meant farmers and people watering their lawns were supposed to use much less water than in previous years.
Sorenson and Brown said they believed if people used more than their allotments last year, it was likely often by mistake.
“There is still a lot of work left to do in contacting residents where we don’t know what they’re using,” Sorenson said.
At last Wednesday’s city council meeting, committee members said they might have found ways to streamline usage going forward.
One immediate proposition was to modify a city ordinance that states a property owner who uses irrigation water must rent or own one share per half-acre of land on their lot. They reasoned that there are many residential lots in the city limit that are between a half-acre and 3/4 of an acre for which one water share is enough to cover their needs. They proposed the city make an exception in the ordinance to only require those homeowners have one share.
Sorenson also said the committee had come to envision having meters on all individual users’ pipes within five years, which would give the city precise figures on water consumption. At the city council meeting, he said this could allow the city to charge for water by the gallon, rather than by amounts for the entire year. As of now, shares cannot be split for rent or purchase.
The committee is seeking grants for installing water meters down the road, as well as to fund other infrastructure projects, such as bolstering the pipe and storage systems.
The water-use discussion coincides with reports of low precipitation and soil moisture entering the year. The council said after the past few years of severe drought, the need to prepare for more dry seasons to come was great.
In the most recent statewide report, Jordan Clayton of the Utah Natural Resources Conservation Service said, “December was another dry month in Utah’s Valley locations, with an average of only 0.4 inches of precipitation accumulated. Current precipitation levels are at or near the lowest in the last decade.”
Precipitation accumulation in the San Pitch River Basin only reached 58 percent of average for the final months of 2020.
Also in the San Pitch, as of December when these figures were released, “Soil moisture is at 35 percent compared to 48 percent last year. Reservoir storage is at zero percent of capacity, compared to 11 percent last year. The water availability index for the San Pitch is 10 percent,” the report said.
The city council hopes to avoid severe limitations to water usage this year, members said. But the water committee said given data like this and low precipitation levels more recently, they already believe rationing will be necessary again this year, perhaps even earlier in the year.
In recent years, the city has sold about 160 shares per year to farmers outside of the area, providing about $18,000 to the city each year, but they elected not to this year in order to save more water for residents to use.
The council also said once it knows more about share allotments and usage, it wants to implement an initiative to better educate residents about how much they should be using.
For the time being, Councilman Sorenson asked those who use irrigation water in Centerfield to try to be conscious of how much water they should be using.
“Be conservative on water use, and be involved,” he said, and that anyone with questions should “get ahold of the city or someone on the council to help them.”
At the next meeting, the council expects to meet with someone who can speak to the city’s legal options. In the weeks to come, it also intends to schedule a public hearing to address potential changes to ordinances, such as the 3/4-acre-lot exception.