By LEIA LARSEN • Standard-Examiner Staff
Months ago, while the snow was still falling and sprinkler systems were far from most Utahns’ minds, the Standard-Examiner decided to dive into the convoluted world of water use in Northern Utah.
What started as a seemingly simple premise — figuring out who was using the most water in Weber and Davis counties and why — quickly evolved into something more complex.
Water, it turns out, gets to our taps through an intricate system of water rights, water shares and water distributors, built layer by layer upon a system that dates from before statehood.
Just in time for irrigation season to begin, we’ve gathered a lot of data.
No single agency has a complete picture of how water is diverted and ultimately used. All track their expensively treated culinary water, some track secondary, some don’t track usage at all on a “per tap basis” — they just know roughly how much is diverted to them out of a river, well or reservoir.
We’ve assembled the most comprehensive picture we could. But there’s still plenty about water use in the Weber-Ogden River Basin we can’t know: where, exactly, does all that water end up? There aren’t good boundary maps for a lot of irrigation companies, and it’s more than likely some small irrigation companies and secondary water providers slipped through the cracks of our research.
That said, we managed to bring some clarity to the murky world of water consumption in our region, just in time for secondary taps to turn on.
HOW SECONDARY METERING WORKS
Familiarity with a few terms helps filter through water complexities. Culinary water is treated to drinking standards. Secondary water is untreated and homes and businesses use it on lawns and gardens. Irrigation water is what farmers use for their fields and livestock.
Until recently, secondary water was hard to track.
Water providers can calculate culinary water as it runs through meters. But raw, untreated river water carries sediment, twigs and river gunk that clog up traditional meters. Technology has finally caught up, but it’s hard to work backward and install $2,000-plus meters on all the region’s existing home and business connections.
That could be why Utahns get chided for being the second-largest water consumers in the nation (behind Idaho), despite being the second-driest state (behind Nevada).
The latest U.S. Geological Survey figures estimate Utahns used nearly 4.5 billion gallons of water every day in 2010. Most of that went to agricultural irrigation.
But within the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, far more water goes to secondary systems — lawns and gardens — than to agriculture. That makes sense since they mostly deliver water to the urban Wasatch Front.
That’s also why the district is aggressively installing meters on secondary taps. They’re required on all new homes within the district’s service area, and the district has applied for grants to install them on more than 4,400 existing secondary systems by next month.
The Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co. is also installing meters on new homes and has received funding to install them on several hundred existing households, too.
Other small water providers, like Hooper Irrigation Co., have no plans to install expensive secondary meters now or in the future.
The water providers that do install meters use them to send their secondary customers data on usage. They aren’t billed for their per-gallon consumption yet, although that’s the long-term goal.
In the meantime, studies have shown secondary water customers cut down their water use once they realize how much they’re using.
THE BIG WATER DISTRIBUTORS
Several companies and conservancy districts are moving water from the Weber-Ogden River Basin to taps and fields on the Wasatch Front.
Water managers typically measure water in acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to cover a football field 12 inches deep. It’s 325,851 gallons.
It’s approximately the amount of water a typical household uses in a year, as estimated by the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co., although last year’s figures were closer to 0.8 acre-feet per household.
The biggest distributor is Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, situated at the mouth of Weber Canyon. It distributed 73.5 billion gallons of water last year throughout Northern Utah.
Then there’s the Weber River Water Users Association, which delivered 19 billion gallons of water. Their shareholders are anyone with a stake in Echo Reservoir, although the water goes mostly to farms in Morgan and Weber counties.
Third is the Weber-Davis Counties Canal Co., which only deals with secondary water. They delivered 14 billion gallons of secondary water last year to homes in Clinton, West Point, Kaysville, Layton, Roy and Syracuse.
After that, there’s Pineview Water Systems, which delivered 10.3 billion gallons of water. Its backbone is the Ogden River, and it banks its shares in Pineview Reservoir before channeling water via pipeline south to homes connected to the South Ogden Conservation District, or north through Ogden Brigham Canal to farms and homes that make up the Weber-Box Elder Conservation District.
Pineview Water also ensures Ogden City and the eight other small irrigation companies that form the Ogden River Water Users Association get their share. They mostly send water to homes in the north part of Ogden and a few farms near 12th Street.
Here are their diversion points.
Ogden River Water Users Association Smaller Diversions
WEBER BASIN’S TOP WATER CUSTOMERS
As Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is the biggest water distributor in the Weber-Ogden River Basin, we asked for their top 20 customers, as that would make them the biggest customers in the entire area).
The district has both wholesale customers — like cities and irrigation companies — and retail customers, who buy the district’s water and use it directly.
We looked at these customers to learn more about consumption habits. First, the wholesale customers:
WBWCD Water Use by Top 20 Wholesale Customers 2016
In the map above, the darker the shade of purple, the more acre-feet a wholesale customer received last year. Click on the bigger provider boundaries to see more detail on the name of the wholesale customer, the exact number of acre-feet delivered, what it’s used for, the number of connections it’s sent to and other sources of water the provider uses, if any.
Some of the customers’ boundaries overlap or encompass others. That’s because some customers, like Ogden City, only provide drinking water. Others, like Weber-Box Elder Conservation District, only provide secondary and irrigation water. They often share service areas.
For Ogden River Water Users Association, we just drew a big bubble over Ogden Canyon, although that’s not the end point for their water. It’s diverted from Pineview Reservoir to Ogden City and eight small canal companies, mostly in the the northern part of Ogden: Lynne Ditch, Marriott Irrigation Co., Mound Fort No. 6, North Ogden Irrigation Co., Glenwood Ditch, North Slaterville, Western Irrigation Co. and Perry Irrigation Co.
Like Ogden River Water Users Association, we could not track down exact boundaries for the Hooper Irrigation Co. service area. We tried to represent them as best we can. In Hooper Irrigation Co.’s case, that meant following its 28-mile main canal from its diversion point on the Weber river to Syracuse.
Various farmers in western Weber County and secondary water users in Hooper and Taylor tap it along the way. We drew non-exact bubbles into Hooper and Taylor to represent their secondary service areas.
Also, many of these wholesale customers supplement their water flowing in from Weber Basin Water Conservancy District — they may have water rights on local creeks or tap groundwater with city wells.
Next, the top retail customers — or at least the ones they can meter.
Weber Basin Water didn’t provide specific addresses or property owner names to protect water customers’ privacy. It did, however, provide general information on where the customers are, and the general use of their property. Weber State University consumed the most water, followed by several public properties like parks, schools and a few large private properties like HOAs and farms.
DISTRIBUTORS, DISTRICTS, DITCHES
Weber and Ogden river water’s journey often doesn’t end once it’s diverted by one of the major distributors. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, for example, wholesales water to both municipal water systems and secondary irrigation districts. The municipal water providers treat the water to drinking standards. Irrigation districts send it to farm ditches and secondary lines.
Complicating things further, irrigation districts often don’t follow city lines. Bountiful Irrigation only waters part of Bountiful.
Half of Kaysville’s secondary water comes from the Haight Creek Irrigation Co., and half from the Weber-Davis Counties Canal Co.
The Latyon Canal Irrigation Co. doesn’t provide water to Layton. It mostly sends flood irrigation water to farms west of Syracuse, but around 20 percent of its water is delivered to Syracuse City for newer homes.
Below, the map only represents the secondary districts we were able to track down. It doesn’t include any culinary or irrigation water districts. Some secondary water providers had specific data on connections, shareholders and distribution, while others only had general data.
Northern Utah Secondary Water Zones
WHO USES THE MOST?
While the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District can’t yet track where most water ends up on a per-household level, it follows how much is delivered to each municipality, water provider and irrigation company.
The Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co. does, too, although as a smaller company with a smaller staff, its data is admittedly less precise.
Using the available information from these providers and dividing it by smaller district and irrigation company information on the number of connections or shareholders, the result paints a general picture of where the Weber’s water goes and who’s using it, at least along the Wasatch Front. We made a map with this information. The darker the blue, the more water used per “tap” in the district.
Weber/Ogden River Water Consumption by User 2016
Ogden-based Compass Minerals was the largest single consumer of Weber water, receiving nearly 1.7 billion gallons for its industrial processes last year, channeled from Willard Reservoir.
The runner-up was a large farming operation with hundreds of acres straddling the Weber-Box Elder county line.
The Hooper Irrigation Co. used 922,648 gallons per shareholder last year, but that includes 800 farms and secondary water for 1,200 homes. Farms use a lot more water than homes.
By comparison, the Bountiful Irrigation Co. only supplies secondary water. Its roughly 10,000 residential and business customers used 378,248 gallons per connection. The Bountiful Irrigation Co. only uses the water it gets from Weber Basin Water. Many cities and irrigation companies supplement their water with wells and other water rights.
Ogden, the largest city in Weber County, delivered 5.7 million gallons of treated culinary water last year, which includes water from Weber Basin, Pineview Reservoir and wells in the Ogden Valley. That amounts to 240,529 gallons per connection.
Layton, Davis County’s largest city, also only provides culinary water. It sent 4 million gallons to residential and commercial taps last year, sourced from the Weber Basin Conservancy District and city wells. That amounts to 208,564 gallons per connection.
Again, many boundaries overlap or surround others. That’s because people and businesses within municipal areas that supply drinking water are also receive untreated secondary water from one of many irrigation companies.