Watch Desert Wars September 25, 2006 at 8 pm on KUED Channel 7
Interviewer: Jerry let’s start out by telling me what the process will be. What will be the process you will go through to make this decision?
Jerry Olds: First of all John, if you look at the project, there are no applications filed with the Utah State Engineer—they are all with the Nevada State Engineer, so the administrative process will be handled in Nevada.
Interview: What about the science? That is one of the rancher's concerns—whether the science is adequate, especially in terms of surplus water. What's your opinion about that?
Jerry Olds: We've had some reconnaissance level studies done of the ground water resource in the area. The major one for Snake Valley was done in the mid 1960's. It does set forth, what they think, is the sustainable yield of the basin. But undoubtedly the data could be updated and enhanced, but will it change the bottom line--probably not.
Interviewer: Talk about recharge of this aquifer system.
Jerry Olds: The aquifer system in Snake Valley is located both in Nevada and Utah. About 60-65% of the recharge occurs in Nevada. The other portion occurs in Utah. It's somewhere around 100,000 to 105,000 acre feet annually. Currently we're using in Utah from wells somewhere around 15,000 acres a feet a year.
Interview: What do you think can be done for the rancher's fears in terms of the science? That's one of the things they're worried about.
Jerry Olds: The ranchers are very concerned about the potential impact this project will have upon their water rights and the springs they rely on for their water supply. As you do these types of studies, you'll never have enough data. The question becomes, will you have adequate data to make an informed decision, and then maybe require some monitoring as you move forward with it? Whether they will ever feel comfortable that we have enough data, that remains to be seen, but we're hopeful that the studies that are currently underway will give us adequate information where we can make an informed decision.
Interviewer: Who owns the water?
Jerry Olds: Under Utah water law the public owns the water, and then through our water rights process, people obtain a right to use that water under certain terms and conditions. The water right is considered to be a property right and as such people buy, sale, trade that water within the market system throughout the state of Utah as well as the Western United States. We're quite a bit different from California. They have a number of unique statues that are different from ours, but we're fairly similar to Nevada. Many of their statues are fairly similar, and their approach to it is similar between the two states.
Interviewer: Let's talk about Mr. Ricci, and how does the collaboration between Utah and the Nevada State Engineer work?
Jerry Olds: My relationship with Mr. Hugh Ricci, the State Engineer in Nevada I believe is very good. We communicate on a regular basis with regards to issues that are common to our states and we are members of various organizations that meet on an annual basis so we converse there. As I've discussed issues with him related to this project, he knows that we're concerned about it, and we'll be watching it very closely, and we'll want to work with them making sure that Utah water rights are protected and Utah's interests within the water resources are protected in Snake Valley.
Interviewer: So if you feel like there is not surplus water on the Utah side, there is a disagreement between the states?
Jerry Olds: There again, as the states work through this problem, I would hope that at the engineering level we would be able to reach a consensus as to what we believe the resource is and how much can be developed and what would be the basic impacts as a result of that, and so I do not anticipate that we would be at opposite ends of the spectrum as it comes down to what the science is, and how much of the resource is there.
Interviewer: What is the future of the west in terms of these water-rights issues? As these cities of the West continue to grow and boom, what do you think is going to happen over the next ten to twenty years?
Jerry Olds: If you look at the West, it's growing significantly, particularly the Southwest and as you look at the water supply we're basically bumping up against the limits of what is available there. As you look throughout the Western United States, the major water use is for agriculture and irrigation. And so, as the cities continue to grow and need more municipal and industrial water, they will have to then go out and acquire existing water rights and transfer them over to meet their growing water needs.
Interviewer: Let's talk about the Colorado River from Utah's standpoint, and also Nevada's share of that river.
Jerry Olds: If you look at the history of the Colorado River compact, it was entered into in 1922. As you look at the hydrology at the system at that time, the data information that was available to the people that were negotiating that compact, they were probably a little optimistic as to what the long-term water supply was within the basin. But as I look at the compact, I think it provides certainty to Utah. We know how much water we have to develop within the upper Colorado River basin and as a result we can go forward and deal with that. Nevada in 1922 received 300,000 acre-feet as their portion under the compact. At that period of time they thought they would never use 300,000 acre-feet. Las Vegas has grown, as you know, significantly, and so now they are running out of water and need to go elsewhere to find additional water supplies.
Interview: Looking in the future in terms of cities looking outside their area for water and do any of these technologies like desalination be a solution for future growth?
Jerry Olds: If you look at the growth, many basins are fully appropriated and the water supply is being fully utilized, so they either have to acquire existing rights within the basin or go outside and import it in. We'll probably see a combination of that through the West as they develop it. As far as alternatives out there, there are now efforts underway to look at augmenting some of the stream flows through cloud seeding. Currently there are efforts moving forward in that regard. Desalinization is undoubtedly a technology that has come a long ways in the last twenty years. It's still very expensive but the science is there. The real drawback is just the cost related to it.
Interview: Why is there so much debate over water rights?
Jerry Olds: If you look at the Western United States, when the pioneers first settled here in Utah as well as in other states, I think they realized early on that water would be the limiting factor of growth. As you look throughout the West, water has shaped the lifestyle that we have and undoubtedly in the future shape the growth throughout the entire region.
Interview: How big of an issue is the delta in Mexico in delivering water in sufficient quality to Mexico?
Jerry Olds: With regards to the delta in Mexico, there are a number of people who are very concerned with it and its resource values and so forth. Undoubtedly if the country of Mexico felt strongly that that was an important resource that they wanted to protect then it would be my feeling that they could commit a portion of their entitlement from the Colorado to do that. I do not believe under the compacts or any other law of the river that Utah is obligated to provide water for those purposes.
Interview: If a state takes more than their share of the Colorado River, how do you enforce that?
Old: With regards to states taking more water than what they're entitled to under the compact, there are provisions under the compact that allow a state to basically use and unused portion from another state. Presently in the state of California, they are using in excess of their 4.4 million acre-feet that they are allocated, but they're not in the process of basically getting their house in order and coming in line with the provisions of the compact.
Interview: Tell us about the recent agreement and whether that will solve the problems we are now discussing.
Old: I'm not as well versed on that as perhaps others are, but it is a major step forward in basically allowing the states to come to some agreement to allow some of the needs of Nevada and others to meet their growing water needs within constraints that all of the states can agree to.