Dismal water outlook may
brighten for Gunnison Valley
By Robert Stevens
Apr. 12, 2018
GUNNISON—A glimmer of hope has emerged in the face of a dismal water outlook in Gunnison.
The hope came from Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay, who reported to the Gunnison City Council on possible new water opportunities for the town, which she learned about while attending a Utah Rural Water Association conference.
Water scarcity and conservation were major topics during Gunnison City Council meetings on March 21 and April 4.
According to Randy Julander, recently-retired hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, 2017 was the worst water year since 1977, “the year with no snow.”
As of Julander’s final climate and water report, released in mid-January, local precipitation levels were at 34 percent of normal.
Noting the poor precipitation levels, the city council has been concerned about water availability, storage and over-usage in the coming year. The council has discussed various options, such as adding more runoff reservoirs and tightening water restrictions.
Yet Nay was optimistic about the future of water in the area based on what she heard at the conference.
“It takes a catalyst to make a change,” she said, “and one catalyst is that Intermountain Power is switching to natural gas by 2025.”
Nay said that switch is projected to cost 1,000 jobs in the Six-County area, a problem Six-County leadership and economic development agencies will have to address, it will have a side-effect that could be a real boon to the Gunnison Valley.
Nay said from discussions she had at the conference, she learned the natural gas switch will mean Intermountain Power will have greatly reduced water needs due to the inherent differences between coal-fired power plants and plants using natural gas.
Nay went on to say the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) owns two-thirds of the water in Yuba Reservoir and if the power plant needs less water, the city might have a chance to buy some of IPP’s water rights.
Councilman Blake Donaldson said, “I think you’d have to have some real money to buy the water from them.” Nay said Donaldson might be right, but there could be a one-time opportunity for the city.
Councilman Blane Jensen said he thought that buying water in any form is probably one of the best investments the city could make.
Nay agreed and said she had learned that in some southwestern desert areas, local government is paying alfalfa farmers not to grow in an effort to decrease water use.
Jensen said he had heard that Phoenix was under extreme duress due to lack of water and “it was predicted to be the next great failure.”
Gunnison’s pressurized irrigation water is available as of April 9. The city’s ordinance requires that people water only during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.