Anglers have welcomed a decision to only reduce Provo River water flow from 100 cubic feet per second to 85 cfs, but the agreement means sportsmen won't be able to do any fishing in the river for a while.
Representatives from 14 separate groups with an interest in the Provo River were prepared to ink the agreement Friday at noon, but Sen. Jake Garn asked that officials wait until he has a chance to review the document."I don't think anyone understands why Senator Garn intruded in on this so late," said Jeffrey Appel, attorney for the Stonefly Society and the Utah Wildlife Leadership Coalition. "I hope he has a good reason. I'm going to assume he does because he's a senator."
Appel called the agreement "monumental" because diverse interests were able to reach a compromise after two weeks of meetings.
"That decision should not be lost in politics, he said. "We were all ready to drop the river to 85 cfs today (Friday), but now we're letting water run down the river for another three days that could have been stored for the benefit of Salt Lake County residents.
"Out of deference to Senator Garn's request, we're tabling it over the weekend until Monday. It's Senator Garn's baby now."
The legally non-binding agreement, hammered out with help from Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, will maintain winter flows from Deer Creek Reservoir at sufficient levels to protect six miles of brown trout fishery while conserving enough water to avert shortages in Salt Lake County next summer. The flow will be increased once water conditions permit.
The Bureau and Central Utah Water Conservancy District agreed to pay a premium $50-per-acre-foot price to buy 9,500 acre-feet of irrigation water on the Provo River and in Deer Creek Reservoir to supplement the winter flows. Salt Lake City and Provo City are each selling about 3,000 acre-feet, and the remainder is coming from a variety of sellers, Owens said.
"In the long term, everyone will benefit from the agreement," said Steve Schmidt, owner of Western Rivers Flyfisher tackle shop in Salt Lake. "I think all the people involved in that decision deserve a lot of credit."
Nevertheless, because the Provo River is such a popular fishing spot during winter months, Schmidt predicts that businesses like his will suffer. "That's my business. That's my bread and butter. But I definitely support it."
He said he is disappointed, however, that the agreement wasn't signed Friday.
Environmentalists and sportsmen had threatened to sue the federal Bureau of Reclamation over its plan to cut flows to 50 cfs from a legally required level 100 cfs. Owens, however, warned that the Bureau would have run out of water next month had it not decided to reduce flows.
Moreover, Owens said, he got into the negotiations because he feared a lawsuit would destroy the united front necessary to win congressional reauthorization of the CUP next year. Without support of national environmentalists, the CUP couldn't pass, he said.
As a result, parties reached the compromised 85 cfs flow, and the Bureau agreed to use about half a million dollars out of its capital improvements budget for the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Proj-ect to buy extra water this year.
"Everybody's giving up something," Schmidt said. "But most sportsmen support the agreement. It sends a big message out to everyone that lowering the river to 85 cfs puts the fish under stress and that continued fishing would make it even worse."
Greg Bullock, a Stonefly Society member, said the compromise is something sportsmen have sought for months.
"We've been pushing for a compromise from the start," he said. "But there was absolutely no give and take at all" from the Bureau, Salt Lake County waterusers and other groups.
"I think it's something we can live with, but it doesn't necessarily make me happy," Bullock said. "We're glad to see they've come to an agreement. Hopefully, they will sign that."
If drought conditions continue, Bullock said, he realizes water left in Deer Creek Reservoir next year may have to be reserved for culinary use. But he blames the Bureau for current problems, not Utah's dry weather.
"The Bureau of Reclamation made a critical mistake in overselling water," he said. "They sold water that they didn't have to sell."
Meanwhile, Bullock said, anglers will fish elsewhere this winter and keep their fingers crossed that the 85 cfs level is adequate to protect fish and their eggs.
"We think that the trout are safe," Owens said. "They are compromised a little bit, but most people think that we still will get most of the hatch."