More farmers lose water; others, defiant, keep pumping
August 10, 2004
By Kristen Moulton or 801-257-8742
The Salt Lake Tribune 
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Salt Lake City, Utah 84111
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The worsening drought has left 350 more Cache Valley farmers without irrigation water and two others threatened with legal action because they refuse to pull their pumps from the Bear River.
Utah and Idaho farmers who get their water from the West Cache Canal Co. had used up their summer's allocation by Saturday night, so the headgates to the Bear River were closed, said Joseph G. Larsen, president of the canal company.
"Everybody's pretty much resigned to the fact," Larsen said Monday.  The canal irrigates about 15,000 acres, although many parcels contain grains that need no more water. "I didn't think we'd make it into August," Larsen said.
Farmers who depend on Bear River water stored in the Bear Lake upstream are getting only 40 percent as much as normal because the drought-shrunken lake is at its lowest point in seven decades. 
Utah Power, which manages the stored water, made the allocations last spring.
Last week, the Utah Division of Water Rights ordered 90 farmers with small acreages who pump directly from the Bear River behind Cutler Reservoir to stop pumping.
Their allocations ran out July 27.
But Lee Sim, assistant state engineer for distribution, said Monday that one or two pumpers could face legal action because they have not yet stopped taking Bear River water. The division is preparing to ask a judge for temporary restraining orders against the farmers.
"One may shut off but we're not sure about the other. The indication is they're saying, 'Do what you have to do.' '' Sim declined to name the farmers.
The West Cache Canal begins north of Preston, Idaho, and flows -- when it flows -- down the northwest side of the Cache Valley.
About [one-fourth] of the canal company's shareholders are Idaho farmers. Ed Cottle, secretary and manager of the canal company, said most of the 350 farmers were prepared for the canal to run dry but some still are not happy.
Those with corn -- although many planted less this year -- will be hurt the most. The ears are just ripening and will need another good soaking in mid-August.
The third crop of alfalfa will be skimpy, Cottle said, and pastures will turn brown. "There are a few who are disgruntled because there is still water in the lake that could be pumped," Cottle said. "The powers that be agreed not to, but some are saying, 'What good does it do to save it for next year if I go broke this year?' ''
Cottle, who has a 140-acre farm in Trenton, planted oats instead of corn this year. There is less money in oats, but at least he had a crop, he said. This year's water allocations were based on the elevation [that] Bear Lake reached after last winter's runoff. At year's end, the lake's elevation is expected to be at 5,903 feet, just a foot above the point at which Utah Power's pumps do not work.
Ray Buttars, who farms 1,600 acres just north of the Utah-Idaho line, said he plans to run a pipe three-quarters of a mile from a well in order to water corn that otherwise would fail.
Buttars has two farms: One is irrigated with the well while the other lost its West Cache Canal water over the weekend. This year, he planted 160 acres of corn rather than the usual 240. I've got $300 an acre invested in the corn. I'm salvaging the crop at this point.  
Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune