The battle for pristine northern Utah County water is on once again.
Cities south of Point of the Mountain are trying to keep the Salt Lake Water Conservancy District from expanding its boundaries and shipping coveted groundwater to points north. The district says it is simply trying to ful-fill an obligation to provide water to future housing developments, including one that straddles the Utah-Salt Lake County line.David Ovard, water district general manager, wondered a few months ago whether the district could make peace with Utah County after it settled a water dispute with Micron Technology. The district gave up its petition to dig three wells and dropped its lawsuit against the company.
Peace doesn't appear at hand.
"We stepped on some toes there. It doesn't look good," he said.
Shortly after giving in to Micron, the district filed new petitions with the state Division of Water Rights to sink three wells in Alpine, Highland and Lehi. That led to a spring uprising, especially in Lehi where city officials urged residents to send the division protest letters. State water officials received a record amount of mail.
"I certainly don't want any (water) leaving the valley that isn't already leaving," said Utah County Commissioner Jerry Grover.
And if that wasn't enough to tick Utah Valley off, the district also is considering a plan to extend its service area to Utah County. The district now finds itself the target of a lawsuit.
Alpine, American Fork, Highland, Lehi and Utah County are suing the district in an attempt to stop it from moving south. In a 3rd District Court complaint, the four cities and county claim the water district sidestepped a new state law when it approved an annexation petition on the same day the law was enacted. The statute requires water districts to obtain written consent from affected cities before expanding into their area.
Grover said the district has no business being in Utah County. "They have no link to us at all," he said.
Ovard found the complaint's timing curious.
"We're a little bit perplexed. We've been sued even before we took any action," he said.
The district's board will decide at its June 20 meeting whether to move ahead with the annexation plan. "The land's not annexed yet. I don't know that it will be after the 20th," he said.
Officials in Utah County contend the district rammed the annexation petition through at the last minute knowing the law was about to change.
"We're not trying to do any end runs. We're just trying to take care of business," Ovard said.
It was the county, not the water district, that pulled some 11th-hour tactics, he said.
In a special legislative session April 17, Utah County lawmakers got their colleagues to approve a bill that put the new annexation provisions into law about 10 days earlier than scheduled. Gov. Mike Leavitt signed the bill April 18, the same day the water district had planned to consider the annexation petition.
Utah Valley officials also claim that the water district's charter allows it to only serve one county.
Fights over water are nothing new to neighboring Utah and Salt Lake counties. The most recent conflict between the two dates back nearly a decade to when Draper expanded into Utah County. The city now lies in both Salt Lake and Utah counties.
"That's driving a lot of it," Grover said.
The Salt Lake water district wants to serve housing developments going up in Draper and near the county line.
Utah Valley leaders fear the district will drain underground aquifers, robbing residents of water. "It definitely, in the end, could affect the amount of water we could draw from our wells," said American Fork Mayor Jess Green, whose city is picking up the largest chunk of legal costs.