What happens if Park City continues to discharge untreated Judge Tunnel Water into Empire Creek after January 1, 2024?
This would be considered a violation of the UPDES Permit for Judge Tunnel. The Utah Water Quality Act (Title 19, Chapter 5, Utah Code Annotated ("UCA") 1953, as amended (the "Act"), provides that any person who violates a permit condition implementing provisions of the Act is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 per day of such violation. Any person who willfully or negligently violates permit conditions or the Act is subject to a fine not exceeding $25,000 per day of violation. Any person convicted under UCA 19-5-115(2) a second time shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $50,000 per day.
Why can’t we just ask for an extension from the regulatory agencies and keep Judge Tunnel water in Empire Creek for longer?
This has already been done. The EPA directed Park City to apply for a UPDES Permit for Judge Tunnel and Spiro Tunnel in 2009, and the initial compliance timeframe was for 4 years, or by 2013. Park City finalized negotiations in 2014 for a 2024 compliance deadline for Judge Tunnel, and a 2033 deadline for Spiro Tunnel. In 2018, Park City successfully negotiated again for a longer compliance deadline for Spiro Tunnel. These extended compliance schedules are precedent setting in terms of granting Park City a long time to comply, and any effort to modify or extend this timeframe would likely end in worse terms for Park City, especially since 3Kings WTP is on schedule to comply with the Permit starting in 2023.
Is there a compromise to allow some of Judge Tunnel water continue to discharge into Empire Creek?
Not without treatment. Judge cannot legally discharge water into Empire Creek after January 2024.
Are there any other options to keep Empire Creek flowing?
Yes, Park City could add water from other water sources. However, all options would require significant time (years), cost (tens of millions), water (millions of gallons), and electricity (millions of kWh) use. The water that would have to be dedicated to creek flow is currently dedicated to the City’s drinking water supply and would be very difficult to replace, especially in drought years.
Why can’t Park City discharge treated water upstream of Silver Maple Claims, like around the Bonanza Park area or City Park?
See answer above. Also, the highest “no pump option“ to add water is to the wetlands near Prospector Park. There is a ditch that runs along the north 40 access road that drains water from the park meadows area. We can move some of this water down into the silver maple claims wetlands through an existing pipe without pumping it. In order to add water higher in the creek, we would need to pump it either through the drinking water system or through the Rockport raw water line. Our drinking water has zinc concentrations that exceed stream water standards (stream standards are orders of magnitude lower than drinking standards) so it would require treatment before being discharged to the Creek.
What environmental studies were completed by PCMC?
Before installing a water pipeline from Judge Tunnel to 3Kings WTP, an Environmental Assessment (EA) was completed to consider, among many other things, the flows in Empire Creek, Silver Creek, and the Silver Maple Claims Wetlands. In addition to the EA, a supplemental ecological study was completed in 2021 at Council’s request to analyze the impacts of removing Judge Tunnel flows since 2013.
One of the many areas studied in the EA was the historical flow contribution to Empire Creek and Silver Creek from Judge Tunnel water. Park City was advised by Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the EPA that the proposed diversion of water would impact the Silver Maple Claims Wetlands, the wetlands east of Prospector Park, and mitigation would be required to compensate for the water depletion to these wetlands.
As a result, a mitigation plan was agreed to, and Park City will augment the flow to SMC Wetlands. The mitigation plan, created in conjunction with Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, EPA, and Park City, is a low-cost, no-pumping plan to add water to these wetlands. The EA did not identify other impacts, or required mitigation, related to the reduction of flow in Empire Creek and Silver Creek, vegetation, wildlife, or otherwise.
Can Park City utilize existing storage ponds, or build new ones in higher elevations to store water and release it down to Empire Creek in the Summer?
Yes. But there are two inherent issues with this approach 1) adding water to Empire Creek would require a substantial amount of water storage capacity. Park City would have to source and acquire land to construct a large detention pond(s) which would be extremely expensive. For example, all the lower Deer Valley ponds north of Snow Park can store about 3,000,000 gallons per foot of depth. To store enough water to replace water currently contributed by Judge Tunnel, these ponds would need to be over 100 feet deep; and 2) Stored water would still require a water source, pumping station, and a UPDES Permit, resulting in additional infrastructure, operating and maintenance costs and a significant amount of electricity. The required water, cost, and electricity would be very similar to pumping water from other City water sources.
Can we capture and store water from melting snow and release a steady flow to keep Empire Creek flowing?
See answer to the question above regarding the amount of storage needed. In addition, Park City would likely need to acquire water rights to capture snowmelt and store it for later use, which would be very expensive, if water rights could even be procured. Finally, it is doubtful that runoff would be sufficient to fill a large pond. For example, in the last few years, the runoff from upper Deer Valley, including all the manmade snow, wasn’t enough to fill the lower Deer Valley ponds.
What will happen to the wetlands east of Prospector Park?
Beginning 2023, Park City is required to augment the flow to SMC Wetlands by adding water from our other water sources, including water draining from the Park Meadows area. Under this mitigation plan, Park City will add the equivalent amount of water that entered the wetlands from sporadic Judge Tunnel overflows prior to 2013.
What will happen to the trees around Empire Creek when Judge Tunnel water is diverted?
The 2021 ecological study determined that, although the increased flows undoubtedly benefitted existing riparian vegetation, they appear to have had little if any impact on woody/tree species establishment, even along the upper reach of the Creek. In addition, the study suggested that that snowmelt and excess seasonal runoff flows, or residual inflows will continue to sustain existing riparian vegetation, as it did prior to 2013 when the Judge Tunnel water was not discharged into the Creek.
Can we reengage the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to see if there was any way to keep water flowing into Empire Creek?
At the request of City Council, Park City staff met with the Director of the Utah Division of Water Quality DWQ in September 2021. The purpose of the meeting was to inquire if anything new changed in the law, rules, practices, precedents, etc. that would change the requirement that water discharged from the Judge Tunnel shall meet the Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (UPDES) permits or would change the conditions of the permits themselves. In other words, we asked if there were alternatives not considered in the past to allow Judge to continue to discharge untreated into Empire Creek.
Unfortunately, the UDWQ confirmed there is nothing new to reconsider allowing Judge to discharge untreated into Empire Creek. The UDWQ highlighted that the Amended Stipulated Compliance Order (ASCO) was precedent setting in terms of allowing a permittee (Park City) flexibility and additional time to achieve compliance with a UPDES permit. The UDWQ also stated that efforts to amend the ASCO a second time to allow further flexibility would be very unlikely and may lead to less preferable conditions for Park City.
Finally, we asked how the UDWQ would regulate a new discharge into Empire Creek, or any Creek, for the purposes of replacing Judge Tunnel water. The Director of DWQ said that such a discharge would need to comply with the Clean Water Act, typically requiring a permit like the existing Judge Tunnel permit.