New dam plan could be boon to Sanpete County farmers

Published: Friday, Jan. 4 2013 6:27 p.m. MST

PROVO — The final go-ahead was given Friday to build a new, 17,500 acre-feet reservoir to irrigate Sanpete County farmland that has typically gone wanting during the end of summer.

It's a decision decades in the making and could mean farmers will be able to harvest an additional seasonal crop.

In the announcement of its decision, the Provo Area office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the project proposed by the Sanpete County Water Conservancy District will not receive any loans from the agency, but 304 acres of its land can be used.

The decision allows for a reservoir that has a surface area of 604 acres to be built about 16 miles upstream of Scofield Reservoir. The Narrows dam will require 5,400 acre-feet of water per year from the Gooseberry Creek drainage, or the equivalent of 6.6 percent of the annual yield of the Price River above the city of Price.

Such a diversion will allow for the irrigation of 15,420 acres of farmland, and in an area that typically only experiences two cuttings of hay during a harvest limited by water, the yield will increase to a third crop.

The bureau's official Record of Decision regarding the project said being able to tap into additional irrigable water will increase farm income in Sanpete County by 11 percent.

The conservancy district has 15 years to begin building the dam, or the lease on the land will revert to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Touted nearly 80 years ago as a way to provide a reliable source of water to northern Sanpete County residents, the Gooseberry Narrows project has been a constant source of tension between Sanpete and Carbon counties.

As plans for the new dam were being crafted, they soon were tossed aside as it became clear a deteriorating Scofield Reservoir was in need of repairs. 

Over the decades, Sanpete County has turned its attention back to the project, but by this time a tug-of-war over the water had erupted into a full-scale legal battle.

Carbon County fears its water supplies will run dry, environmentalists oppose the diversion of water and the impacts to fisheries and wetlands, and Sanpete County claims it is not getting its fair share of water which leaves farmers and residents suffering.

The bureau said the final environmental document includes 38 different steps, or "commitments," that will be undertaken to mitigate impacts, including effects that may play out in fisheries or to sage grouse or raptor habitat.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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