The possibility of making millions through the lease of Utah's share of the Colorado River is an idea one Duchesne County commissioner says he has concerns about but isn't totally against.
In fact, Commission Chairman Larry Ross, says if such a lease agreement ever materialized, Duchesne County, along with other eastern Utah counties whose tributaries feed the Colorado River, expect a good share of the generated revenue to come back to the counties of origin.Ross says unlike past water-related issues that have affected Duchesne County - particularly the Central Utah Project - this time the county plans to organize under the authority of a water conservancy district to ensure the county's rights are protected. (See related story).
"When it comes to water leasing, we intend to be right at the heart of the matter, whatever the discussion is," Ross stated. "I don't think anyone knows if leasing will ever take place, but we need to influence that decision - what the water will be leased for and what the money will be used for."
Ideally, Ross says, he would like to see at least 50 percent of the revenue generated for leasing returned to the area and used for the construction of water projects but not restricted to such use.
Approximately 14.5 million acre-feet of water flows through the Colorado River annually. The river sustains a multibillion-dollar economy by providing irrigation and culinary water to over 20 million people throughout the western United States.
In Duchesne County the Rock Creek, Lake Fork and Yellowstone rivers all flow into the Duchesne River, which flows into the Green River, which winds its way to the Colorado River.
Gov. Mike Leavitt favors leasing a portion of Utah's 23 percent share of the Colorado River to the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. As a result, various concerns by water leaders and elected officials throughout the state have been heightened.
During a meeting on the issue held recently in Price, Ted Stewart, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said there are no immediate plans to introduce legislation in regards to the leasing of Colorado River water in the 1996 session of the Legislature, but there are numerous investigations being conducted into the feasibility of water leasing.
When the Colorado River Compact split the river system into upper and lower basins in 1922, it apportioned in perpetuity to each basin the exclusive and beneficial consumptive use of 7.5 million acre feet of water annually. The language of the compact declared that if the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming chose not to use a portion of their water, lower basin states could make a claim on unused water.