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The City Journals

Water to Be More Expensive for South Jordan

Mar 10, 2016 09:32AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Sandra Osborn | [email protected]

South Jordan - Snow-capped mountains, lakes and many reservoirs around the state can give the perception that Utah is abounding in water. Yet, Utah is the second most arid state in the United States, drier than Arizona and New Mexico. 

Understanding how water gets from the sky to the tap is important in making sound water decisions now and into the future. 

Utah gets most of its water in the form of snow. Strong winters build a healthy snowpack. In the spring and summer, the snowmelt runoff replenishes streams and rivers, and recharges the reservoirs and groundwater. 

The supply of water is subject to water rights. Water rights are based on a priority date—those entities that hold water rights with the earliest priority date receive the water supply first. 

This is particularly important to year-round water users such as the cities along the Wasatch Front. 

“The concerns involve getting water to where the growth is. The challenge stems from the population concentration in our state, primarily being from Ogden to Provo,” Gary Whatcott, South Jordan city manager, said.  

South Jordan is the fastest growing city in Utah and among the top five in the U.S, according to U.S. Census Bureau.

Water pumped from the ground (or reservoir) is treated and distributed through private companies or water conservancy districts. End users pay not only for water usage, but a portion of their base water rate goes to support infrastructure, conveyance, and updates, that is, building and maintaining treatment facilities and pipes. 

Currently, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District supplies all the water to South Jordan. 

“In the past, we have had really inexpensive water. But we are going to see that change in the next 10 years. Water will become more expensive. The cost of infrastructure and maintenance just keeps going up, as is importing water from sources farther and farther away,” Whatcott said. 

Geographically, South Jordan has limited access to water sources within its city boundaries. 

“The Oquirrh Mountains do not generate as much snow pack as the Wasatch Mountains,” Whatcott said. 

“Other cities, as they have developed, have created water rights through drilling wells, but South Jordan does not have any water rights. The city owns some water shares on canals, but not many,” Whatcott said. 

“Furthermore, we have the unique issue where historic mining operations contaminated a portion of the underground aquifer in Salt Lake County, which happens to be both the A and B plumes, two separate parts, but which are both in South Jordan,” Whatcott said. 

Mining activities began in the Oquirrh Mountains in 1863. Some early efforts were made to contain acidic waters, but were not completely effective. Zone A, the acid plume, originated from the Large Bingham Reservoir, which was used to collect runoff from the Bingham Canyon open pit mine. Zone B, the sulfate plume, originated from the South Jordan Evaporation Ponds used in the 1930s. 

Although the waters do not pose a health risk to residents, they are not useable as a public drinking water supply without blending or treatment, according to the EPA Record of Decision Southwest Jordan River Valley Ground Water Plumes Report in December 2000. 

The contaminated ground water underlies a 72 square mile area. Clean up efforts began in 2001, but it is estimated that it takes 40 years of constant pumping and treatment to make 90 percent of the water useable, and a 100 years to clean up the contamination entirely.

“Even if the water underneath us wasn’t polluted, South Jordan does not have rights to it. As a city, we are very vulnerable because we have one supplier. It is important that we move in the direction to diversify our water supply and find a way to have some water of our own,” Councilmember Don Shelton said. 

Over the years, South Jordan has conducted several studies that explore alternative solutions to its water troubles such as a citywide secondary water system. The recommendations from the studies, however, have been shelved until more economically viable times. 

“Let’s at least begin the conversation. Let’s have the tough discussions now. Why wait until we have a crisis?” Whatcott said.