When Brigham Young stated to Jim Bridger that Utah would “Blossom as a Rose,” one wonders if he saw, prophetically, the vast desert regions of Utah traversed with irrigation ditches, wheel lines, catch basins, irrigation ponds, and other unique projects, to bring precious water to newly settled communities. According to historians, the Utah pioneers, in the late 1840’s, were the first Anglo-Saxons to practice irrigation on an extensive scale in the United States. Being a desert, Utah contained much more cultivable land than could be watered from the incoming mountain streams.
Because of Bishop David Evan’s initiative to dig a ditch to bring water to Lehi farms in1852, a precedent was set that later turned into law. The principle was established that those who first made beneficial use of water should be entitled to continued used in preference to those who came later. This fundamental principle was later sanctioned in law in 1903 for surface water and 1935 for ground water and is known as the “Doctrine of Prior Appropriation.” This means those holding water rights with the earliest priority dates, and who have continued beneficial use of the water, have the right to water from a certain source before others with water rights having later priority dates. This is an extremely important principle when it comes to water allocation in Lehi. (www.waterrights.utah.gov/wrinfo)
As time went on and Lehi grew, the necessity for new sources of water became imperative. In addition to Dry Creek and American Fork Creek, the city acquired irrigation water from the Bull River project, Deer Creek Reservoir, various canals carrying water from Jordan River and several deep wells. These water rights, however, are not owned by Lehi City, but by various corporations including the Lehi Irrigation Company, the Metropolitan Water District of Lehi and Utah Lake Distributing Co. According to chief city engineer, Lorin Powell, it is unlawful for cities to sell water, they can only buy water.
The upgrading and development of new water sources had been an ongoing process. With local bonding and federal grants, the system had been able to sustain the moderate growth of Lehi’s population. In 1989, Mayor George Tripp, anticipating more rapid growth of Lehi implemented steps to remedy Lehi’s water problems for decades to come. Lehi’s water was divided into two systems: a culinary system and an irrigation system. Lehi was one of the few communities to separate the systems. The two systems were completed in 1990. Other Utah County cities have followed Lehi’s example.
The next article will discuss the current and future of Lehi’s water needs and see what is being done today to keep Lehi’s water supply adequate for future development. (Information gleaned from Richard Van Wagoner’s Portraits of Utah Town 1990, interview with Lehi Chief Engineer, Lorin Powell, May, 2016, and Flowing Toward 2050, Research Report, Utah Foundation, 2014.)