The Right Decision for the future of Park City

Michael D. Luers, general manager

Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District

 An event took place recently that means more to the future of our community than any, yes any, decision since the founding of Park City! It has to do with water.

When ranchers and miners settled the Park City area, water from springs, creeks and mines was used by all and the fighting over water started. As more people moved to the area, Park City created a municipal water department to meet the increased needs of the town.

Over time, the Snyderville Basin area continued to grow and its economy diversified. As more people built homes for reasons other than ranching, demand for water grew. But the increasing demand for water was not accommodated in an efficient and coordinated manner. Rather, it was addressed in a piecemeal fashion. Small private water companies were started in Summit Park, Timberline and Silver Creek to provide water for homes. When ParkWest ski area was developed, a small water company was created to supply water to the resort. The creation of small water providers continued until the late 1990s when there were 16 separate public and private systems operating in the Park City area. Typically, once a water company was created and a development was built, the operation of the water company was turned over to a few dedicated individuals, usually with inadequate funding to maintain the system. Failures and inadequate water supplies were not unusual within some of these systems.

As you might expect, there was little cooperation or coordination between the water systems. In fact, millions of dollars were spent defending water sources, water rights and the right to serve new developments. No one water company can be blamed for all of this; it is what happens when the demand exceeds the supply.

To address the inability of several small water companies to meet demand in the Snyderville Basin area, Summit County created Mountain Regional Water Special Service District (MRWSSD) in 2000. After a rough start, MRWSSD acquired, and consolidated, several small failing water companies. At about this same time, Summit County passed a water concurrency ordinance that required all water companies to have “wet” water before agreeing to serve new developments. Numerous lawsuits and legal actions ensued. Because of the complexity of water issues, there was little to no cooperation and coordination on the future of water to the Park City area.

By the end of 2010, there were still more than a half-dozen water providers in the area, including three major ones: Mountain Regional Water, Park City Water Department and Summit Water Distribution Company. Each was looking for a way to develop and maintain reliable sources. However, with existing lawsuits and 20 years of mistrust, the Right Decision was hard to come by.

Finally, a group of courageous leaders had enough and stepped in. While many people deserve credit, there are a few individuals who were responsible for making the Right Decision happen.

During the last decade, a few people started to talk. They included Bill Brown, who served on the board of trustees for the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District and was a stockholder and long-term member of the board of directors of Summit Water Distribution Company. Chris Robinson joined the talks after being elected to the Summit County Council. While the talks started slowly, over time some trust between the individuals developed. Others joined the discussions including, but not limited to, officials from Park City and Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

Discussions were sidetracked for a while until the long-lasting lawsuit between Summit County and Summit Water was settled. Finally, a concept was conceived that would potentially consolidate the interconnectivity of the water systems in the Park City area. The concept involves the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District acquiring a few pieces of infrastructure from each of the water providers to create a unified system that would deliver wholesale water to any of the various water providers in the Park City area.

On December 1, 2011, all parties met in the offices of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and signed the first of several agreements to get the process underway. While the first agreement is non-binding, all parties agreed to share their information in order for Weber Basin to determine what is needed and how the parts can fit together to create a unified system that will ensure adequate water supply for current and future residents and can have tremendous environmental benefits such as maintaining minimum stream flows for native fish populations.

Much work is yet to be done, but the future of our community is much brighter now! There are times when our elected officials hit a grand slam and their leadership is at its best. This was one of those times! They made the Right Decision.