From the Clouds to the Tap: Part 1

Where does the water you drink come from? How does it get to your house? And what happens to it in between?

Over the next few issues, we’ll tell the story of the water that comes out of your tap. We’ll start at the beginning, when water falls from the sky in the form of rain or snow.

Q. Where does the rain or snow water go?

A. Simply put, rain (and snow that falls in the valley) percolates into the ground and becomes part of groundwater, which is mostly retrieved through wells. Snow in the mountains melts gradually in the spring and either soaks into the ground and then comes out through springs, or runs off in streams that then flow down the mountains into the valleys.

Q. So when we have a nice snowy winter, that means we have a lot of water to use the next year, right?

A. Not necessarily. A big snowpack is a good start, but a lot can happen on the way down the mountain. A combination of deep snowpack and hot spring temperatures can cause runoff that comes too fast and causes floods, as happened in the Salt Lake Valley in 1983. Even if we avoid flooding, sometimes the water comes so quickly that there aren’t facilities to process it and store it, so it is allowed to simply run downstream and is wasted.

Q. Where does WaterPro’s water come from?

A. We have three sources of water: we own the rights to the water from seven canyons to the east of Sandy City and Draper City, and from several wells in the valley, and we also have a contract to purchase water from the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District (JVWCD).

Q. What are water rights, and how did WaterPro get them?

A. In Utah, all water is owned by the public, and companies or individuals must file for water rights in order to be able to make use of any water. This contrasts with many Eastern states whose laws are based on the doctrine of riparian rights (from English common law), which allows all those whose property has frontage along a lake or river to make reasonable use of the water. In Utah, even if you have a stream flowing through your property, you can’t use the water unless you also own the water rights. And even if you own the right, you don’t own the water – the public does.

When Draper Irrigation (the parent company of WaterPro) was incorporated by a group of farmers in 1888, they pooled their individual water rights, and consequently we own some of the oldest water rights in the state.

Simply owning a water right isn’t enough; a company or an individual also has to put it to “beneficial use” (such as irrigating crops or using the water for household or industrial use) or the state can take the water right back.

Q. Okay, you have the water rights; what happens next?

A. Next month, we’ll look at the infrastructure that moves water from source to use.