Carbon County, groups want revisit of Narrows dam project

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 5:20 p.m. MST

PRICE — The Carbon County Water Conservancy District and a pair of sportsmen  groups want the federal government to revisit its approval of a new dam and reservoir in neighboring Sanpete County.

The long, drawn-out proposal has inspired a war between the two counties over the diversion of the water for the reservoir, which Sanpete County said is needed desperately to amp up summer water storage.

In January, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave its final nod to allowing construction of the Gooseberry Narrows Reservoir, which would hold 17,000 acre-feet of water.

But in a letter drafted by a Salt Lake law firm on behalf of the water district, Trout Unlimited-Utah Water Project and the Stonefly Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the groups argue the federal environmental analysis was inadequate on a number of fronts.

Among those shortcomings, according to the attorney retained by the trio, are the lack of consideration of impacts to wetlands, water quality and quantity, as well as fisheries and recreation.

Wayne Pullan, deputy area manager for the Provo office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the project has been worked by bureau staff since the mid-1990s and has been subject to delays because of consideration of other alternatives.

"If anyone says we didn't have adequate time to look at the impacts … it is a defensible (analysis) and it serves the public well," he said.

The environmental analysis includes 38 requirements that have to be met during the preconstruction phase, actual construction phase and post-operation of the dam.

The project was envisioned nearly 80 years ago as a way to supply water to northern Sanpete County residents but was delayed by the bureau when the reconstruction of the failing Scofield Dam earned a higher priority in funding.

The concern at the time was to preserve the integrity of a critical railroad line for shipping coal for war-time efforts — a route that skirts the adjacent shoreline of Scofield Dam.

In subsequent years, Sanpete County water managers assert they have been left with inadequate municipal water supplies and a critical problem in hot summer months with no place to store water for irrigation.

Carbon County officials object to the Narrows project because they say it would threaten their water supply, drawing on flows from the Gooseberry Creek that dumps into the upstream Scofield Dam.

Opposition to the project — which has an estimated price tag of $32 million — has not wavered over the years and an agreement over the water rights to support the Gooseberry Narrows project became the focal point of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals battle.

The court ruled that the water rights out of Gooseberry Creek belonged to Sanpete but also noted that those rights did not guarantee construction of the dam.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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