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Water outlook ‘as good as it gets’

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Christopher Vassel of Taylorsville fishes for trout in Millcreek Canyon on Friday. Snowpack levels are high in Wasatch Front canyons.

Christopher Vassel of Taylorsville fishes for trout in Millcreek Canyon on Friday. Snowpack levels are high in Wasatch Front canyons.

Danny Chan La, Deseret Morning News

ST. GEORGE — Utah's snowpack is in good shape this year with most of the state's reservoirs expected to fill up nicely during spring runoff, according to Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"The water supply this year is probably as good as it gets," Julander told members of the Utah Board of Water Resources meeting in St. George on Wednesday. "We have got essentially double the snowpack this year that we had last year."

Stream flows are also expected to be above normal around the state, he added.

"The runoff implication is that we could see snowmelt a little early on. We've never been in a situation where we've had too much snow, but it's possible. It could happen," Julander said, adding a storm is expected to roll through portions of Utah this week. "We are expecting all of our reservoirs to fill up, except for Bear Lake and the others that have some restrictions, such as Enterprise Reservoir."

Other items on the water board agenda included allocating funds or approving bond requests to improve water-related projects around the state.

Brigham City, for example, requested a $6 million loan at zero percent interest to construct a water and sewer line to serve a new Proctor and Gamble paper plant to be built in Box Elder County. That request was granted.

Wayne County sought and received a nearly $4 million loan from the board to help pay for the Hanksville Canal Company's share of rebuilding a diversion dam destroyed in 2006 by floodwaters from the Fremont River. Ranchers there have been unable to water crops and fear losing their livelihood without a new water source.

Eric Millis, deputy director for the Utah Division of Water Resources, also reviewed the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline for the board.

"The big news is that we have submitted the preliminary application documents with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and are on our way to a 4 1/2 year process that will result in license permits for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project," Millis said. "The next big step is the scoping process where we hold meetings where anyone interested in the project can attend and comment."

The first public scoping meeting is tentatively scheduled for June, although Millis said details are up to FERC, which is the meeting sponsor.

"They have a schedule laid out for this process, and it should move right along," he said. "Things shouldn't change too much unless there's controversy or something unexpected happens and slows things down."

Controversy over the $585 million pipeline that would bring water from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Washington County is certain to crop up wherever the project is on the agenda.

Citizens for Dixie's Future, among other environmental groups, are actively fighting the project by hosting rallies and letter-writing campaigns against the pipeline, saying it is too expensive and would fuel growth to a region that should instead learn to conserve its water resources.

Most of the water from the project would be allocated to Washington County, up to 70,000 acre-feet, while about 10,000 acre-feet would be delivered to Kane County and 20,000 acre-feet to Iron County.

For more information about the Lake Powell Pipeline project, go online to water.utah.gov/LakePowellPipeline.

E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com