AMERICAN FORK CANYON — Nearly $30 million in federal funding is on its way to Utah to rehabilitate 19 dams, increasing capacity and upgrading critical infrastructure.
About 41 percent of the newly released watershed rehabilitation funding — $73 million to be dispersed across the nation — will flow into Utah. Natural Resources Conservation Service assistant chief Kirk Hanlin called the state an ideal candidate as he announced the federal funding initiative against an idyllic backdrop at Tibble Fork Reservoir.
"Utah had been very proactive in preparing for dam rehabilitation, and when we looked at projects around the country, there were a lot of projects here in Utah that were ready to go," Hanlin said following Thursday's announcement.
As part of President Barack Obama's push to bolster local economies by investing in infrastructure, much of the $30 million coming to Utah will pay local contractors who will be hired for the rehabilitation projects, Hanlin said.
Utah's dams have the capacity to increase water storage for the arid state and are upstream from commercial and residential developments, posing a potential threat if they aren't maintained, Hanlin said. Those factors, along with state funding that is already in place, make the dams ideal candidates for the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding.
Tibble Fork Dam, constructed in 1966, provides flood protection for American Fork Canyon and 2,300 people who live downstream. Rehabilitating the small dam, which will make it 15 feet taller, is expected to net about $535,000 annually through recreation and increased water storage.
The little reservoir is a peaceful place to camp, hike, fish, canoe or even swim, U.S. Forest Service supervisor David Whittekiend noted. Fishermen and families were enjoing the reservoir Thursday as this week's dusting of snow provided a postcard-perfect enviornment.
"The opportunity to make something like this happen — to improve our recreation area and the experience up here, and to help facilitate use of water in the valley for agriculture and for the folks who use the water for drinking — is key for us," Whittekiend said.
Utah's 19 rehabilitation projects stretch from Weber to Washington County, including Dry Creek Dam in Lehi, Millsite Dam near Ferron, Sand Hollow debris basin near Monroe and Gypsum Wash debris basin near Washington City.
Half of the NCRS dam assessments, including in drought-ridden states like Utah and California, will investigate options for using existing infrastructure to mitigate drought.
"Being the second driest state in the nation, it's so important we protect our water and conserve it as much as possible," said state Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who was praised for helping secure matching state funding for dam repair.
The projects stretching across the state are also backed by an additional $11 million approved by the 2015 Legislature. Additionally, taxes collected by conservation districts since the dams were first built are also in place.
"This is a great example of government that works," said Hanlin, calling Utah an example for other states to follow. "Because your local conservation district, your state Legislature, your governor and the federal government under President Obama all stepped up to the plate together, we're addressing and solving these problems."
Bill Leafland, assistant director for the Utah Division of Water Resources, called the fortuitous timing that brought together state and federal funding "significant and special."
"(The projects) will continue to provide water for approximately 40,000 Utah homes," Leafland said. "Additionally, these dam safety projects will protect tens of thousands of Utahns and their properties from flooding."
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