This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah State Auditor on Tuesday issued a scathing report of the Weber-Box Elder Conservation District's handling of groundwater flooding that filled at least 14 homes' basements for most of the summer.

In late June, homeowners in the Douglas-Hiland neighborhood in eastern Ogden began reporting that groundwater was damaging their homes. The water district quickly assured the public that its underground Hudson Street reservoir was sound and the water was likely spring runoff from the nearby Wasatch Mountains. But in fact, the reservoir had a torn lining that was discovered Aug. 9 when the district drained the reservoir, according to the audit.

The audit faulted the district for failing to follow standard practices for inspecting and maintaining its infrastructure; dragging its feet in response to residents' complaints; and not maintaining an adequate emergency response plan.

But these may be a symptom of a larger problem: Auditors documented what they say is a troubling lack of accountability to the district's elected board.

In its formal response, the Weber-Box Elder district rejected the auditor's findings, claiming they are based on an incomplete review of events and actions taken by district staff.

"There was no failure to effectively evaluate and identify the source of the groundwater. The Districts [sic] response was appropriate and effective in eventually identifying the source of groundwater," wrote general manager Terel Grimley, who did not immediately return a voice mail Tuesday.

His district, one of three entities in what is known as the Pineview Water Systems, provides secondary water to 2,500 customers in Ogden-area neighborhoods north of the Weber River.

Grimley's response re-affirmed the audit's harsh conclusions, auditors said. His Nov. 3 letter contradicted key facts the district had told auditors during their inquiries.

For example, Grimley had reported that the district routinely checks the reservoir lining at the end of irrigation season. But after auditors concluded it should be checked for wintertime damage in spring when it is still empty, Grimley responded that his staff inspects reservoirs in spring as well, and no problems were detected.

He had initially reported the reservoir was not checked for leaks until two days after homeowners began reporting water in their basements. Then in his response, Grimley reported that canal operators visit reservoirs four times a day to monitor their condition and water levels. Auditors were puzzled that he hadn't reported this in the first place.

"We question the reliability of information that is inconsistent and provided weeks after our request," auditors wrote. "The district's lack of cooperation may be the result of complacency, insufficient expertise, or an intentional effort to obstruct our efforts."

After flooded homeowners began pressuring the district for answers, the audit noted, the board should have used its next meeting to ensure the situation was being addressed. Instead, it canceled the July 14 meeting.

When Jessica and Nick Smith returned home from church June 28, an inch of water had appeared in their recently finished basement, their main living area.

"We didn't sleep for the next four days," said Jessica Smith. The house was to be put on the market the next day, but they are now stuck, they said, with a compromised home that will take up to $75,000 just to get fixed.

"Pineview [Water Systems] stonewalled us throughout this process and said we were being unreasonable homeowners trying to blame them for a natural event," Smith said. "We have never been contacted by anyone from the board and Grimley cut off communication from the start. Pineview's insurance adjusters gave damage estimates that are too low. Prior to the audit they were saying take it or leave it."

The district had denied the reservoir was to blame because homes uphill from the Smiths were not affected. Smith said officials even cast blame on these uphill houses and suggested the problem came from neighbors who were overwatering.

Meanwhile, the problem worsened and the Smiths were pumping 5,000 gallons of water a day from the home through much of August. Even after the reservoir was drained, the water kept coming in because 5 to 6 feet had pooled around the house's foundation.

The Smiths' insurance doesn't cover the damage because they lacked a flood policy.

"Now it's not just us homeowners saying they have liability; it's the state saying, 'Look at all these errors,' " Smith said.

Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, found the audit "spot on" and blasted the district for not taking responsibility.

"My experience with Pineview is that they are reliably inconsistent and defensive and patently unaware of current practices and of their own system. It blows my mind that they waited weeks to check the reserve while they were insisting it wasn't them," instead blaming the city water system or spring runoff, said Fawson, whose district covers the affected neighborhood. Auditors also looked into Ogden City's handling of the flood reports and concluded its water utility division's response was adequate.

Incompetent management was exacerbated by the district's lack of accountability to its board, whose members told auditors they were "generally satisfied" with the way staff handled the flooding.

"Extremely low voter participation and the small number of candidates filing for district board election in recent years may have minimized accountability and allowed for ineffective governance and management," the audit said. The board's 2013 and 2015 elections were canceled because of a lack of candidates. The 2011 election drew 11 votes, a voter participation rate of less than .01 percent.

Along with outlining steps the district should have taken to isolate and fix the problem, auditors recommended the district and counties do a better job informing voters about elections and resolve confusion over the district's name, which many residents mistakenly believe is Pineview Water. That's a nickname for a group of districts that distribute water from Pineview Reservoir.

In his formal response, Grimley promised a new website was under development to better educate constituents, but he dismissed any notion that poor voter engagement has bearing on the flooding response.

"Board oversight was not needed because the district personnel were in the investigative stages and following proper procedures," he wrote. Moreover, their efforts were complicated by the prodigious rainfall that spring which had dropped 10 inches in the proceeding two months.

Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at or 801-257-8713.

Twitter: @brianmaffly