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Interior Takes Historic Step to Transfer Ownership of Federal Water Projects in Utah to Local Water

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

The Department of the Interior announced steps to improve water management by finalizing the transfer of ownership of two federal water projects in Utah to local water user organizations. The Emery County Project in east-central Utah and the Uintah Basin Replacement Project in northeastern Utah will be the first water facilities to be transferred from federal to local ownership under the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act that was signed by President Trump last year. This new law expedites the title transfer process for eligible projects, such as diversion dams, canals, laterals and other water-related facilities.

“These title transfers fulfill the Trump Administration's goals to streamline bureaucratic processes, empower local ownership and facilitate infrastructure investment and job growth,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt. “Transferring some facilities into local ownership is also a win for the federal government, which will save taxpayer dollars due to decreased operating costs and reduced liability.”

“We are proud to transfer title to our local partners who have been managing and operating these facilities for many years,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “These projects are the first to reach this stage of completion and highlight our commitment to empowering local management of water resources.”

“It’s not every day that the federal government gives water projects back to local water users, but we are 90 days away from such a minor miracle becoming reality,” said Senator Mike Lee. “The Moon Lake Water Conservancy District and the Emery County Water Conservancy District are about to take possession of the Big Sand Wash and the Emery County Project respectfully. The ratepayers of these two water districts have bought and paid for these projects and it is long past time for the official title to be transferred to the local people.”

“These two conveyances, historic as being the first under authority granted by huge bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, are no-brainers. Until Congress passed the lands package early last year, these straightforward transfers would literally take an act of Congress. It was time consuming and unnecessary,” said Congressman Rob Bishop. “The Big Sand Wash (Moon Lake) and Emery County Project title transfers will remove federal costs and liability, increase local control, improve stewardship, and reduce an already over-burdened federal estate. I commend the Department of the Interior for their expeditious use of this authority. These are big wins for Utah and set a pattern for similar projects across the nation.”

“I appreciate the hard work of the Emery Water Conservancy District, Department of the Interior, and U.S. Department of Agriculture to get this important water project transferred to local ownership,” said Congressman John Curtis. “This will ensure that residents will continue to have access to important recreational opportunities in the region, while also easing important infrastructure improvements to guarantee future water access to Emery County.”

Upon conveyance of title, the Moon Lake Water Users Association will take ownership of the Uintah Basin Replacement Project, and the Emery County Water Conservancy District will take ownership of the Emery County Project. Although ownership would change, these water users will continue to manage these facilities to meet current needs in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and within the terms of the title transfer agreement.

Uintah Basin Replacement Project

The Uintah Basin Replacement Project title transfer will convey ownership to project facilities and lands necessary for project operation, maintenance and replacement—including the Big Sand Wash Feeder Diversion and Pipeline, Big Sand Wash Reservoir enlargement and Big Sand Wash Roosevelt Pipeline. The transfer includes 14.7 acres of fee title lands and 980.4 acres of easements. The Uintah Basin Replacement Project provides water for agricultural irrigation and Roosevelt City and facilitates better water resource management and conservation in the Uintah Basin.

“The Moon Lake Water Users Association is excited to be among the first administrative title transfers in the history of the United States. This title transfer provides great opportunities for the future of the Uintah Basin here in Utah and increases the stability of agricultural and other industries in the area,” said Moon Lake Water Users Association General Manager Dex Winterton. “This title transfer process, through preparation, negotiation, and agreement has laid out a framework to protect the interests of all parties and ensure that all water users will continue to benefit from the Project as they have in the past. This transfer also demonstrates good government principles by allowing the local entities, who know the area and truly have its best interests in mind, to efficiently maximize the project benefits for the local end users.”

Emery County Project

The Emery County Project title transfer will convey ownership to all project facilities and federal lands necessary for project operation, maintenance and replacement, including the Joes Valley and Huntington North dams and reservoirs, Swasey Diversion Dam, Cottonwood Creek-Huntington Canal, Huntington North Service and Feeder canals and evacuation pipeline and Upper Lakes Reservoir. The transfer includes 1,104 acres of federal lands adjacent to and necessary for operation and maintenance of those facilities. The Emery County Water Conservancy will continue to work closely with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure access to recreational facilities around the reservoir. The Project serves irrigation, recreation, fish and wildlife, and municipal and industrial needs in Emery County.

“Transfer of title to the Emery County Project from the United States to the Emery Water Conservancy District is a real benefit to the Emery County area as it will foster better opportunities for efficient and cost-effective operation, management, and care of the project at the local level and guarantee continued project benefits to all stakeholders in the short and long term,” said Emery County Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Humphrey. “This is the realization of great foresight from Congress, Reclamation, and the Emery County officials 50 plus years ago securing stable water supply now and into the future.”

The Emery County Project was authorized as part of the Colorado River Storage Project in the Green River Basin and completed by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1966. It serves irrigation, recreation, fish and wildlife, and municipal and industrial needs in Emery County.


Congress provided the authority for these and other qualified title transfers in Title VIII of P.L. 116-9, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. As required by the Act, today’s action is a written notification that begins a 90-day congressional review, after which the Department will complete the ownership transfer unless Congress enacts a joint disapproval resolution within that time period.

{USDI press release}

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