Ephraim spends $4M on water and land
By James Tilson
Jan. 18, 2018
EPHRAIM—The Ephraim City Council unanimously approved a land and water purchase for $4 million.
At an accelerated meeting of the city council held Wednesday, Jan. 10, the council approved an agreement between the city and Rex and Debra Nielsen to purchase 542 acre-feet of water and 259.8 acres of land at a price of $4 million.
Mayor Richard Squire told the council that the city had a rare opportunity to purchase a “very large” amount of land and water rights, enough to “provide redundancy” to the city for years to come.
City Manager Brant Hanson explained that the land and water rights purchase was part of the city’s efforts to develop a new culinary water well. The city staff has been working on the purchase agreement for approximately six months.
Hanson characterized the agreement as “definitely fair, but not screaming.”
Craig Smith, water rights attorney from Salt Lake City retained by the city as part of the negotiations of the deal, said it was “hard to answer” how to value water rights.
He said a variety of factors go into determining a value, such as priority date, probable usage, other prices in the area, irrigation shares attached to the water rights and especially the availability and demand for water in the locality.
When pressed, Smith said most water rights would sell for about $6,000-$7,000 per acre-foot. At 542 acre-feet, that would work out somewhere between $3,252,000 and $3,794,000.
However, said Smith, the recent dry spell in Utah weather would certainly drive up the price of water rights and would likely do so even more in the near future.
Several members of the city council spoke in favor of the purchase agreement.
Councilman John Scott said, “The city must think ahead to provide for future growth.” Scott pointed out that a lack of water would curtail future development. This agreement had the advantage of a relatively reasonable price and a quantity of water that was rarely available.
Scott hailed previous city leaders who had thought to their future, the fruits of which Ephraim is enjoying now. Now, he said, the current leaders must take advantage of an opportunity that “fell into our hands.”
Councilman Richard Wheeler said, “The question is not whether we need the water. We will need to purchase water rights, and in the future it will cost more.”
Councilwoman Margie Anderson said, “Growth is inevitable, and we must take care of the future.”
Hanson made his last pitch to the council regarding the opportunity: “We’ll never see this amount of water available again.”
The council approved the purchase agreement unanimously.