County Council chairman Lynn Jackson and Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison discuss the city and county’s mutual business in a joint meeting on Friday, March 28 [Photo by Pippa Thomas / Moab Sun News]

The Moab City and County councils met Friday, March 28, to discuss the business of growth, from an update on Utah State University-Moab campus, to a water-study proposal, to potentially sharing the office of economic development.

Steve Hawks, dean of USU -Moab, said that they are still working with School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) to finalize the land exchange for a 40-acre site on the southern edge of Moab. The process was delayed when the SITLA representative they had been working with died, but it remains on track.

The USU-Moab campus planners had developed a conceptual master plan for the site two years ago. They are now ready to create a much more detailed design, “focused on classroom space, faculty space, administrative space, and a special emphasis on a commons area where students can congregate and create a strong sense of being on a college campus,” Hawks said.

The new design should be finalized over the next two months.

“We very much want to have the city and county and SITLA’s input into that design,” Hawks said. “When we know how much it will cost, then we’re looking forward to have all the players come together and decide how we can make that happen.”

Meanwhile, USU will continue to develop its programs, build faculty, and market the university. It has already engaged a professional marketing team and begun state-wide advertising. Its marketing theme of “make this your classroom,” illustrates the fun activities students can do while they get their education.

Student growth is hard to predict, Hawks said.

“We already have some students from the Wasatch Front who found out about us and have already moved here,” he said. “As that word gets out, as marketing goes into effect, I think we’ll see 40, 50, 60 new students a year start to come here.”

Campus planners anticipate the growth to be steady over time, and will build student housing in phases on land set aside for that purpose.

Major water study proposed to address future needs

Moab and Grand County’s growth and development have also given rise to discussions about water use and future needs. In the joint meeting, representatives from the Utah Division of Water Rights (UDWR) presented a water-study proposal created in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

“My role here is to discuss the potential for a study, giving perspective from the UDWR about what the study will entail,” UDWR engineer Jim Reese told the councils.

According to the proposal, the study will map where, when and how much groundwater is recharged and discharged from area springs. It will use groundwater chemistry and dating methods to develop a better conceptual understanding of groundwater flow in and around Moab-Spanish Valley.

The study will include a comprehensive assessment of total well water used in Moab, Spanish Valley and surrounding areas. It would also study evapotranspiration rates in the area, including from the Matheson Wetlands Preserve. Discharge of water into the Colorado River would also be analyzed

The cost of the three-year study is an estimated $430,000, with 40 percent being matched by federal government, Reese said.

“I’m tickled to death with this number because we’d been operating under the assumption that it would cost a couple of million dollars,” Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said.

The study proposal presented at the meeting is a scaled-down version of what the USGS had originally put together.

“We talked with USGS and said let’s bring the cost down to a bare-bones study,” Reese said.

“This is a first step,” said Vic Heilweil, USGS groundwater research hydrologist. “This study proposal is the first part of our earlier proposal. This is what we think is the best approach for the time being.”

Though stripped down, the study will suffice for a ground water management plan, said Marc Stilson, UDWR Southeastern regional engineer.

“This is part of a larger effort for a bigger picture for us,” he said. “We are looking at proposing a ground-water management plan for Moab-Spanish Valley. To do that this is the type of data we need.”

The councils discussed how to move forward with this study and also find funding.

“There are four entities involved: San Juan County, Grand County, the Spanish Valley Water District and the City of Moab,” Sakrison said. “We would form an interlocal agreement amongst ourselves and then draw up a contract with the USGS.”

County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said the next steps may be to create work groups to focus on some of these issues.

“It would include somebody from each interested group to kick this into the next phase,” he said.

Rounding out the discussion about water, city manager Donna Metzler gave the different council members a copy of a city water-use presentation she had delivered in February. The presentation outlined where the city gets its water, how many water rights the city has and how much water the city and community use.

The Moab Golf Club uses 40 million gallons per year, and the wastewater-treatment plant uses an additional 13 million gallons per year. In 2013, the average Moab household used 185,000 gallons of water.

“The district has water rights on the Colorado River underutilized right now,” Sakrison said. “We can help facilitate a water takeout area so that the growing companies, anyone who’s going to use non-culinary water can take it out at the source. I’d like the city and county to approach the water district to see if we can work something out there.”

“The challenge for us is access, so we’d like to have some help with it,” Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency general manager Mark Sovine said.

Councils discuss sharing Economic Development office

Growing companies and economic development continued to be a theme as the two councils discussed the potential benefit of sharing the Economic Development Office, currently run by Ken Davey.

“It seems reasonable to me that we find some kind of mechanism where we do pay for his time, especially when he helps us out,” Jackson said.

Davey has been working with the county in its involvement with the Eastern Utah Economic Development Coalition.

Jackson’s sentiment was echoed by County Council member Ken Ballantyne who said “what affects one affects us all, so I’m very much in favor of developing some sort of plan.”

Davey agreed to develop an initial plan of how he can serve both city and county economic development interests.

New college campus and major water study among agenda items

“The district has water rights on the Colorado River underutilized right now. We can help facilitate a water takeout area so that the growing companies, anyone who’s going to use non-culinary water can take it out at the source. I’d like the city and county to approach the water district to see if we can work something out there.”