Water restrictions imposed on southern Utah farmers

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HURRICANE, Utah – Summer monsoons have brought little relief to southern Utah’s severe drought. Now state officials are imposing restrictions on those who draw from the Virgin River for irrigation.

The Virgin River is running 20 percent below normal. Cities have already imposed watering restrictions, but it’s not culinary water that’s at stake.

The state engineer sent a letter to water users on July 7stating a priority call will be initiated, with owners of rights created after the year 1900 unable to access water.

“This is not unheard of, but this is generally a circumstance that doesn’t take place,” said Washington County Water Conservancy District associate general manager Corey Cram. “This is an unusual thing and everyone is looking at this as pretty severe conditions.”

Under state law, priority is given to those with older water rights -- on the Virgin River, that means the Washington Fields Diversion Dam. Those farmers obtained the first rights to the river in the late 1800s.

But those restrictions come when farmers are taking the biggest hit. Hurricane farmer John Wadsworth said he planted based on the projections of a low river, and his fields are suffering as a result.

“I have 110 acres that was all in to crop,” Wadsworth said. “But I had 35 acres here that I said ‘well, I’ll let that land lay fallow.”

Farnsworth started farming in the 1960s. He has some protection through agreements with local water districts, but is one of dozens that will be affected by the restrictions.

The state engineer is holding a public meeting at the water district offices Tuesday at 6 pm to discuss the restrictions, and help farmers plan for the drought.

The full letter discussing the reasons for the restrictions can be found here:

http://www.waterrights.utah.gov/meetinfo/m20140715/20140707-Priority_Call_Letter.pdf