The Colorado River Basin, which includes the Virgin Valley, is experiencing the worst drought in decades. Changing rainfall patterns, climate variability, high levels of evaporation, reduced snow melt runoff, and current water use patterns are putting pressure on water management resources all along the Colorado River system.
Current usage allocation and projected climate trends suggest a 50% chance that live storage in lakes Mead and Lake Powell will be gone by 2021. In addition, the reservoir could drop below minimum power pool elevation of 1,050 feet (320 m) as early as 2017.
Fortunately, large volumes of ground water move and collect in the shared lower Virgin River Basin 222. The shared Basin is one of the deepest in the area. The depth to the carbonate basement is possibly 5 miles. The average depth is between 1-3 miles. Depth to water within the basin varies from 1,200 feet below land surface to 2 feet above land surface. The VVWD has production wells to a maximum depth of 3,300 feet with 20-inch diameter casing. It is possible to drill to lower depths, however such effort is extremely expensive.
Drought conditions, population growth, drilling limits, extraction permits, legal battles, wildlife protection regulations, and competition among various water authorities significantly inhibits decision making. Without credible information, it becomes necessary to rely on information from individuals with vested interests in those decisions.
The recent legal battles over the practices of former hydrologist Mike Johnson and former district manager Mike Winters involvement with the purchase of water from area resident John Lonetti is a case in point. A local water-share holder and board member brought allegations against the three. The allegations were serious and required judicial review. Currently, the Board has paid over one million dollars in legal fees to settle the case with Lonetti and Winters. As part of the settlement, the VVWD received $15,000 from Winters. Lonetti purchased back some shares for the price paid. Johnson is considering a settlement offer. In monetary terms, addressing the board members concerns cost the ratepayers in excess of one million dollars for a $15,000 return. This ratio may, or may not, change when the board settles the Johnson issue complaint.
Without scientific based planning and reliable market studies the board is left with exchanges of barbs and homegrown pricing between good-ol’-boys as the decision-making criteria. The Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado and Lower Colorado Regions, in collaboration with representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin States conducted a “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study ”
The study defined current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin and the adjacent areas of the Basin States. The Study characterized current and future water supply and demand imbalances in the Basin and assessed the risks to Basin resources. The Study confirmed what most experts know: there are likely to be significant shortfalls between projected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin in the coming decades. I, for one, would like to see the VVWD, the city council and the Overton Power District fund a scientifically credible follow-on study to help formulate actionable market-based tasks necessary to confront, resource and manage our water based future in the virgin valley.