Rani Derasary [Courtesy Photo]

Rani Derasary has been a resident of Moab since 1999, and a member of the Moab City Council since 2016. She can be reached at rderasary@moabcity.org, 435-210-1647. Any opinions expressed here are hers alone and not intended to speak for other councilmembers.

After college, I worked for an international non-governmental organization (NGO) addressing negative economic, social, and environmental impacts of large-scale water projects (dams, channelization schemes). We worked in collaboration with regional NGOs around the world. A huge challenge for local communities was/is an inability to have a say in what happens to the water resources they depend on.

This is often due to authoritarian – but sometimes democratic – governments working with large funders (e.g. the World Bank/International Monetary Fund) to advance projects that forcibly “resettle” large numbers of people, promising to maintain their standard of living, and to provide water and/or power.

Time and again, this has proven a false promise; people forced from their homes are thrown into poverty; currencies are devalued, economies undermined; ecosystems people depended on for livelihood such as fisheries are destroyed; and promised water and/or power is often never delivered.

Central to our work was fighting for local people’s rights to have a voice about their community’s water resources, making sure there was democratic public participation. My colleagues were engineers, economists, journalists, academics, scientists, linguists, and policy experts.

I mention this to offer insight into my concerns about how water discussions at the City of Moab are occurring. Protecting water resources was part of my election platform in 2015 and 2019. I’ve been taught that: water is in the public trust; a central responsibility of cities is to deliver culinary water; elected officials such as City Councilmembers should play a role in decision-making about water; and, to do this well, electeds should be as informed as possible on policy, technical and legal aspects, history and data – garnering these from a combination of staff and scientists, academics and residents knowledgeable about the local watershed.

I’m writing to tell you that my ability to make informed water decisions is being hindered by a decrease in the engagement and education of Councilmembers, and to invite you to be part of the solution.

Since January 2022:

• promised meetings educating Councilmembers on water scarcity have not come into fruition, despite continuous pleas for them in public meetings, emails, and conversations.

• meetings related to the Water Utility Resource Management Plan (WURMP – intended to guide our valley’s “resilient water resource management for the next 100 years”) have not been public, save one online meeting.

• the City’s Water Conservation and Drought Management Advisory Board (WAB)—a volunteer citizen advisory group created in 2016 to inform Council of policies and practices to ensure quality water supply for current and future residents—has effectively been disbanded.

• repeated requests to have scientists and academics such as Dr Lachmar—whom many of you heard at the January 23 Moab Area Watershed Partnership (MAWP) meeting—come present to the Council have been met with dismissal, and: “the City has all the water expertise it needs in the City Manager and City Engineer.” I say this not to disparage those individuals, who certainly bring expertise to the table, but so you know of this consistent resistance.

• the 4-25-23 City water workshop was attributed to my meeting requests, though I was neither consulted in its content planning or scheduling. I say that not to be petty, but to demonstrate Councilmembers are not at the table.

• conflicting reports come to me about key officials’ engagement with MAWP, from: “we’re actively engaged,” to: “we’re not interested in attending, or even aware of what MAWP does.” (MAWP is a collaboration of diverse stakeholders sharing knowledge, developing, and facilitating implementation of a holistic watershed plan, which conserves and enhances water quality and quantity in the Mill and Castle Creek watersheds and their tributaries.)

At the 2-21-23 Grand County Commission meeting, Utah Division of Water Rights Regional Engineer Mark Stilson explained: it’s the community’s responsibility—not the State’s—to avoid getting into a situation where we’re mining our aquifers. I’m asking: how can today’s City Council look residents in the eye and tell you we’re doing everything possible to protect and make informed decisions about your watershed if we can’t have regular conversations about water, or hear from the locals most familiar with our watershed? I consider this issue too important for the Council not to be investing more time in it.

Please join me in calling for these patterns to change. People around the world face prison and sometimes assassination for discussing their community’s water resources. We’re fortunate in this valley to still have the right to demand it’s discussed openly in ours.