Bluff opposes water development project on nearby SITLA land

(Updated Wednesday September 9) : Bluff Town Council approved a letter of opposition to one of the three projects at the September 8 meeting of the Bluff Town Council.

After receiving an email from SITLA answering their questions about the projects, council chose to support the Tank Bench Mesa and Wildlife Guzzler projects.

“This is something that’s going to be very useful for the cattleman and the wildlife” Council member Jim Sayers said at the council meeting.

Council voted to oppose the East League, Horn Pasture Project. “They’re drilling one because they don’t want to rip a pipeline," Sayers said. "When we’re drilling into our aquifer we want to think about why we’re doing that and we want to have a pretty substantial reason for doing that and I don’t think (the East League, Horn Pasture Project) meets (that) higher standard.”

The letters will be included as part of public comment which SITLA will consider when making their decision.

A proposed water project on state-owned lands near Bluff is receiving some pushback from the Bluff Town Council.

The School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is proposing three range improvement plans on trust land near the town of Bluff.

One project application SITLA received is to drill a water well and install a solar pump system in the Tank Bench Mesa area located to the northwest of Bluff. The project is designed for livestock in the area.

The Tank Bench Mesa project would see a trough installed at the wellhead and about 3,400 feet of pipeline installed. A cultural resource study would be completed before any digging is done.

The second project application SITLA received is to drill a similar well with a solar pump system, but with just 1,500 feet of pipeline included. The project known as the East League, Horn Pasture is also in the Bluff area.

The final project proposed is the Southeastern Upland Game Guzzler Phase II. The project will construct two wildlife drinking areas on the west side of the Bluff Bench. Each guzzler will include a 10-foot by 12-foot apron that captures rain water and feeds into a 500-gallon tank.

The two guzzlers will have a fence around them to prevent livestock from accessing them. The project is anticipated to benefit quail, mule deer, and other wildlife in the area.

At the September 1 meeting of the San Juan County Commission, elected officials unanimously sent a letter of approval for the wildlife guzzler. However, the commission tabled their letter of support for the two projects which would install wells with a 2-1 vote.

Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes did so at the request of the mayor of Bluff. Commissioner Bruce Adams expressed a desire to send letters of support at that meeting.

At the meeting, Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen asked the commission to not send the letter of support before the Bluff Town Council could weigh in on the range improvement plans.

“Two of those plans would have wells that drill into the aquifer. As we all know the aquifer supports not just Bluff but a very large geographic area,” Leppanen said. “I’m asking at this time that the commissioners defer submitting letters of support for those three range improvement plans.

“Right now, we don’t know how much water would be pulled from the aquifer. Bluff completed a 50-year water study in June of 2020. The conclusion is that we don’t have sufficient water at the end of the 50 year planning project.”

At the same meeting Commissioner Adams expressed his concern over delaying the improvement projects. “I think we’re in a crisis with livestock in the county, and I think the livestock producers need the water immediately. I hate to hold up any livestock person from getting water.”

Commissioner Maryboy encouraged Mayor Leppanen to have the Bluff Town Council state their position as soon as possible.

At their September 3 work meeting the Bluff town council discussed the projects. Although the council could not make a final decision on their stance, council seemed to be leaning towards opposing the two range improvement projects that included drilling of wells.

SITLA asked for comment by September 8.

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