San Juan County won't ban water transfers from agricultural land; final decision due April 27

The San Juan County Council on April 13 agreed that the goals and policies of the Water Element of the county Comprehensive Plan should “discourage” against taking water out of agricultural resource lands for use elsewhere.

The council came up one vote shy, however, of prohibiting such a transfer of water outright. That prohibition, proposed by Councilwoman Lovel Pratt, and backed by councilmen Gene Knapp and Bob Myhr, failed to earn enough votes to be included as part of the Water Element update. The council deadlocked 3-3.

In a 3-2 decision, with Myhr abstaining, the council also rejected a proposal by Pratt in which a request to use the public right-of-way for such a transfer of water would be automatically denied.

The Water Element will be back before the council April 27 for a final decision.

Council Chairman Richard Fralick said keeping water resources intact to protect farmland is a laudable goal. But there are circumstances, he said, in which the transfer of water can benefit farmers and others without putting the future of the farm in question in jeopardy.

Fralick added that the council already has the authority to approve or reject an application for use of the public right-of-way in its powers over “franchise agreements.” In addition, he noted that the blanket prohibition was opposed by the county Water Resources Management Committee.

“I think it’s better policy to look at this case by case,” Fralick said.

Councilmen Rich Peterson and Howie Rosenfeld sided with Fralick in voting against the prohibition.

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