Four Ute Indians have tried unsuccessfully to stop the flow of silt-laden water from the Upper Stillwater Dam by seeking a temporary restraining order in Ute Tribal Court.
The four tribal members accuse the Central Utah Water Conservancy District Board of authorizing the release of contaminated water from the dam and say the water has caused irreparable harm to Rock Creek, which runs through their lands on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.Don A. Christiansen, conservancy district general manager, said Wednesday that Tribal Judge Larry Kee Yazzie did not issue a temporary restraining order in response to the complaint. He said the legal action is not threatening to the district because the district does not own or operate the dam.
Upper Stillwater Dam was built by the Bureau of Reclamation as a feature of the Central Utah Project's Bonneville Unit. The conservancy district is the local CUP sponsor and will eventually handle the operation and maintenance of the dam, but the federal government holds the title to the dam, and Reclamation is still in control. "We are not calling the shots or controlling the flow of water," Christiansen said. "If we had an injunction (gainst the district) we still could not control the flow of water."
When construction on the dam was finished last fall, an 800,000 cubic-yard pile of red sand, unsuitable for use in making concrete for the dam, was left in the reservoir basin. Wave action stirred up the fine sand when water began backing behind the dam, and the red water has now filled Rock Creek and can be seen in the Duchesne River as it makes its way to the Green River.
All of the water flowing into the reservoir basin was withheld from Rock Creek for a time, but spring runoff began filling the reservoir faster than the federal law allows.
Regulations set forth after Teton Dam failed during its initial filling during the summer of 1976 require the water level behind new dams to rise no more than 2 feet per day. Reclamation is spilling water from the reservoir into Rock Creek to keep from violating that regulation.
Federal and state forest and wildlife officials are studying Rock Creek to see what the silt being deposited on the stream bed is doing to the fishery or the food chain.
The Ute Indian Tribe's business counsel held a press conference in Salt Lake City last week and threatened to sue the bureau because of the problem, but Reclamation is not mentioned in the request for a temporary restraining order and subsequent injunction filed with the tribal court May 26. "That lawsuit will be dead unless they enjoin the Bureau of Reclamation. Then it would have to be moved to federal court," Christiansen said.