The prospect of another dry year and the fact that the current level of Deer Creek Reservoir is 21,000 acre feet lower than last year has water-user groups concerned.
The Provo River Water Users Association called a meeting to discuss the critical situation and the impact that might result to fisheries in the Provo River if water flow from the reservoir is significantly reduced.Representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District, Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City and the Utah Department of Natural Resources were to attend the meeting Monday.
People who fish are concerned that fish habitats along the river may be damaged by reduced flows.
"If the flows are reduced it would affect the number of spawning areas available to the fish," said Steve Schmidt, a vice president of the Stonefly Society and owner of Western River Fly Fisher in Salt Lake City. "But the greatest damage would occur to the insect population. That habitat could be reduced by 60 percent."
Schmidt said even if the water flow is restored later, the food source would have been decimated and the fish would have to struggle to survive.
Last December, the same conflict arose as water associations sought to reduce flows into the Provo River from 60 to 40 cubic feet per second in anticipation of a dry year.
Damage to spawning fish and habitats was avoided when the bureau agreed to release some of its water in the reservoir to maintain 100 cfs in the river.
An environmental impact study done for the Central Utah Project states that is the minimum level allowable to maintain the river's environment and fisheries.
The bureau sold its remaining water allocation recently and does not have water to contribute to maintain the flow level of the river. However, a new water allocation year begins Nov. 1.
The water users association must maintain current flows to meet irrigation demands through Oct. 15, and possibly later. When irrigation needs cease, they want to shut the gates on the dam to preserve water for next year.
"The association has the right to store the natural flow of the Provo River in the reservoir," said Jack Gardner, association superintendent. "With the current drought situation, we won't fill the reservoir and won't have a water supply if we have another dry year."
Gardner said if the gates are shut, approximately 25 cfs would flow out of the dam, with an additional 25 to 30 cfs being added by streams feeding into the river below the dam.
"The river won't dry up," Gardner said. "There will be sufficient water for the fish, they just might not reproduce like normal. Economically, it's a small loss."
Schmidt disagrees, saying such flows would reduce the river to a "trickle" and would result in a great loss to the state from recreational and tourist aspects. Schmidt said steps should be taken to conserve water instead, like limiting lawn watering.