By Les Bowen for Sun Advocate | July 19, 2005 | Original source
This remains one of the most challenging news stories I have ever written. My editor told me I received the assignment because the writer who had previously covered the issue had become too involved. I had never covered a water rights issue, so much of the jargon was foreign. On top of that, I was a Carbon County reporter – I knew the players there. Sanpete County was all new territory, so it was a challenge just to find a source. To make matters worse, the previous reporter had written some slanted coverage, so many Sanpete officials were hesitant to speak to me. In the end, I found officials who would speak to me and I’m still impressed on how well I grasped the concept of water rights so quickly and how well I explained the issue.
After more than seven decades, officials and residents of Sanpete County indicate that they are fed up with waiting for a proposed dam to be built on Gooseberry Creek.
However, Carbon County officials are joined by state and federal officials in opposing the dam.
Sanpete officials hosted a press conference on July 6 at the proposed site and expressed frustration with roadblocks that have delayed construction.
“We want to get this issue into the public eye. We think it’s time the reservoir goes forward,” said Edwin Sunderland, chairperson for the Sanpete County Water Conservancy District, during a phone interview Monday.
Carbon officials stated last week that the county will continue to oppose the dam.
“We’re continuing to oppose that dam,” confirmed Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich.
If built, the Gooseberry-Narrows dam would serve as a trans-basin water diversion system.
The plans call for the reservoir to be built near the headwaters of the Price River. A tunnel would divert water from the reservoir to Sanpete County’s water system.
However, the construction would impact the amount of water available in Scofield Reservoir and the Price River.
The situation would, in turn, affect the Green and Colorado rivers.
As a result, parties downstream from the proposed reservoir have opposed its construction for years.
“I don’t see that there has been clearly established a reasonable return for the investment. Until they can show a reasonable return for the investment, it’s not a viable project,” said Rep. Brad King, who represents portions of Carbon, Emery and Grand counties.
While the Utah representative opposes the dam, King said that he would support alternative water management and storage techniques, not only in Sanpete and Carbon counties, but throughout the rest of the state.
Sunderland explained that part of the reason for hosting the press conference was to encourage the United States Bureau of Reclamation to release an updated environmental impact statement on Sanpete’s proposed project. The most recent EIS, released in 1998, is currently out of date.
As a result, Sanpete officials have asked interested parties to write to BOR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the EIS process moves forward.
At the July 6 press conference, Richard Noble of Frandsen Noble Engineering, project engineer for the past 15 years, attributed the delay in the EIS to a split congressional delegation.
Prior to the realignment, Carbon and Sanpete counties fell into one congressional district. Now, Congressman Jim Matheson represents the southeastern region of the state.
Matheson represents not only Carbon County, but much of the Colorado River drainage basin.
“Congressman Matheson has been opposed for a variety of reasons,” said Alysin Heyrend, communications director for the U.S. representative. “He is concerned on water use, recreation and other aspects that would follow as a result of the dam.”
Heyrend added that, after Matheson has worked with elected officials, sportsmen and businesses, the congressman favors different options than constructing the dam that would deliver water without the impacts to Scofield Reservoir or Price River.
Heyrend said Matheson is willing to seek federal funding for an alternative to the proposed Gooseberry-Narrows dam.
However, the alternatives may not be acceptable to all parties involved.
“We have not been able to come up with an alternative,” said Sunderland.
The Sanpete district representative claimed that part of the need for the dam comes from the need to store water later into the year.
Sunderland maintained that the agricultural needs of Sanpete County will not be met by diversion alone. Instead, diversion and storage will be required.
“It’s our water and we’ve waited long enough,” said Sunderland.
Sanpete claims the district has rights to 5,400 acre feet of water that it is not currently using, and officials in the county want to store that amount and release it later into the year.
That would allow for an additional cutting of hay in north Sanpete County.
Sunderland explained that the only solutions that meet the demands are wells and the reservoir.
However, Sanpete’s proposed water storage project continues to be met with opposition.
Carbon officials have pointed out that Sanpete already diverts water through a series of tunnels and canals from Price River and its tributaries.
The amount of the diversion is not known and may exceed the water to which Sanpete County is entitled.
As a result, Carbon officials have continued to question whether Sanpete County can justify additional diversion
“We don’t think the dam is in the best interest of Carbon County or the state,” pointed out Milovich.
Milovich said the commission considers the construction of the proposed reservoir to be damaging to Carbon County and will continue to oppose the Sanpete project.