Saturday, January 21, 2012

Are You Ready for the Canal Safety Plan Deadline?

The following article was written by David Hartvigsen, a partner at Smith Hartvigsen, PLLC, for the Water & The Law newsletter that our firm publishes on a quarterly basis. If you would like to receive an email version of the newsletter, please click here to join our mailing list.

In response to the tragic loss of life when a landslide breached the Logan & Northern Canal in Logan on July 11, 2009, the Utah State Legislature passed two canal safety bills - 2010 House Bill 298, Land Use Authority Notification of Canal Development, and 2010 House Bill 60, Water Conveyance Facilities Safety Act (Act). The Utah Association of Conservation Districts (UACD) has helped the Logan & Northern Irrigation Company (LNIC) and the Logan, Hyde Park and Smithfield Canal Company (which is allowing LNIC to use part of its canal to get water around the breach) complete a joint Safety Plan on their canal systems. Though a confidential and protected document under the Act, it follows the template plan that is now available to all irrigation companies through UACD and the Utah Division of Water Resources (DWRe).

The purpose of House Bill 298 was to ensure that residential construction projects within close proximity to a canal do not proceed until the canal owner has been given an opportunity to review the project. Thus the canal owner can protect the integrity of the canal system and assist homeowners and developers to safeguard adjacent water structures. Canal owners had until July 1, 2010 to provide a general description of their canal, including contact information, to each county or municipality in which the canal operates. If you haven't provided this information yet, the sooner the better, because a homeowner or developer could argue that damages or losses could have been avoided if this information had been timely provided.

The purpose of House Bill 60 was to encourage canal owners to identify the risks associated with their canal systems and to develop solutions to reduce or eliminate those risks. This information is to be documented in a Water Conveyance Facility Safety Management Plan ("Safety Plan") by no later than May 1, 2013. As a means of promoting compliance with the Act, DWRe may only provide financial assistance to canal companies that have met this deadline, with some limited exceptions. If your canal company has not yet started on the inspections needed for the Safety Plan, you should be including funding in this year's budget and assessments to get that work done because this summer is the last summer before the deadline to do the inspections and field work. It is very difficult to assess site conditions and certain of the risk factors when the canal is under a blanket of snow.

In January 2011, UACD partnered with various state, federal, and private organizations, including the Strawberry-Highline Canal Company, DWRe, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to produce a Safety Plan template. Canal companies can use this template as they develop their own Safety Plan. The template, as well as the full text of House Bills 60 and 298, are available online here.

The main canal risk factors that must be addressed in the Safety Plan are slope instability and storm water. Subsection 4 of House Bill 60 places the responsibility on the municipalities to identify storm water inlets into canals and estimate the maximum flow that could occur at each inlet. As canal companies have sought to obtain this information from local governments, it has become apparent that many cities do not have accurate data nor up-to-date maps of their storm water drainage systems. On canals with multiple storm water inlets, canal operators have faced the task of balancing water levels so that there was adequate capacity for storm water each time a large rainfall occurred. However, city governments and canal companies have begun to work more closely together for comprehensive storm water management.

A water company may be exempt from the requirement of adopting a Safety Plan depending on the type of water conveyance facility owned by the company. Natural channels and pipelines are not considered water conveyance facilities according to House Bill 60. In addition, since the bill was meant to address the risks to population and infrastructure, canals that don't have any potential risk locations may also be exempt. A potential risk location is defined as a segment of a water conveyance facility that, if it were to fail, would create a high probability of causing loss of human life or extensive damage to infrastructure. To determine if their canals have potential risk locations, canal companies must consider the following parameters: location, elevation, soil conditions, structural instability, water volume or pressure, or other conditions. Each parameter must be evaluated in relation to existing and future urban development.

As water companies continue to implement House Bill 60, there will be additional issues and concerns that come forth. A recent request was made to DWRe to consider different canal systems within a single company as separate entities. The canal company determined that one canal system had no potential risk locations and was therefore exempt from adopting a Safety Plan, even though other canal systems owned by the company, once they have been fully evaluated, may still require the adoption of a Safety Plan. DWRe will evaluate these types of requests on an individual basis.

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