If you're having difficulty understanding the current controversy over water rights and storage of water in Deer Creek Reservoir vs. maintenance of the Provo River's flow level, you are not alone.
It is a complicated issue; water users and public officials are also confused. The following background may help you make sense of what is going on.There are two basic issues: a move by the Bureau of Reclamation to store the flow of the Provo River in Deer Creek Reservoir; and a proposal by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District to transfer rights to 20,000 acre-feet of water it has in Utah Lake to 20,000 acre-feet of water in Deer Creek Reservoir.
Reclamation announced last week that it was rewriting a "categorical exclusion" to an environmental impact statement done for the Central Utah Project. That document says 100 cubic feet per second of water is necessary in the Provo River to maintain fish habitat. The rewritten version of the exclusion would not set a minimal required flow. Reclamation could thus store all the flow of the Provo River in Deer Creek Reservoir.
Actually, the flow of the river would drop from 100 to 55 cfs if Reclamation goes ahead with its proposal. Little Deer Creek stream feeds into the Provo River just below the dam, adding 10 cfs to its flow. Also, the Provo River Water Users Association must release 45 cfs from the dam as part of a trade agreement with Utah Power & Light. UP&L provides three homes belonging to the Provo River Water Users Association (located in Little Deer Creek) with power in exchange for the water, which it uses in power generation.
Reclamation has said storage of Provo River water is necessary because of drought conditions, short water supplies and the possibility that Deer Creek Reservoir might not fill next spring.
Concern about this action centers on the impact of reduced river flows on high-quality fishing in the Provo River, the reduced aesthetics of the river, the loss of potential economic income, the usurping of the rights of downstream water users by Reclamation and the reduced ability of the river to recharge underground aquifers.
Also, Provo River Water Users Association maintains it, not Reclamation, has the right to control flow of the Provo River and storage of water in Deer Creek Reservoir.
The second issue is the proposed water storage transfer. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District bought 43,000 acre-feet of water from Kennecott Copper some time ago. That water had been stored in Utah Lake. The water conservancy district wants to store 20,000 acre-feet of water in Deer Creek Reservoir instead of Utah Lake.
Doing so would reduce the flow of the Provo River and the level of Utah Lake. To compensate for the reduction at Utah Lake, the water conservancy district has proposed to allow 20,000 acre-feet of water from Strawberry Reservoir to flow down the Spanish Fork River and into the lake.
Concerns about this proposal are identical to those listed for Reclamation's proposal.
But there are additional concerns: some believe Kennecott's water rights in Utah Lake came from a variety of sources, not just the Provo River. This proposal seems to consolidate those rights in one source.
And, Reclamation's proposal and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District's proposal seem to do the same thing (reduce the flow of the Provo River), which appears redundant, if not impossible.