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Exploring Gooseberry project’s future impacts in Carbon County

By Sun Advocate

When the Mammoth project started in 1916, the principals involved in the dam’s construction were from Carbon County.
The water development idea had originally been a Sanpete County concept. But lack of funds prevented private companies in the Sanpete Valley from building the dam.
The next year, Mammoth Dam collapsed.
The dam was built for two reasons – to control the flows in Price River and to build a reservoir to store water. The stored water could be released for use in the Price River drainage as needed later into the growing season.
None of the water backed up behind Mammoth went to Sanpete County. And Carbon County has held the majority of the rights to the water in the drainage since the dam collapsed.
But the ongoing debate between Carbon and Sanpete regarding the construction of a second dam in the drainage has continued for 80 years.
Carbon managed to resolve a good deal of the county’s water problems by building Scofield Dam. When the structure proved faulty, Carbon constructed a second dam downstream with the help of the federal government in the mid-1940s.
During the years, Sanpete has acquired water rights in the drainage. Some comes from the “first in time, first in right” doctrine the state uses for water rights. The doctrine applies because Sanpete water users constructed a dam and created Fairview Lake in 1869.
Through the Fairview tunnel leading into the northern portion of the valley, Sanpete County can legally divert 3,020 acre feet per year from the lake.
However, most officials in Carbon County feel Sanpete has consistently diverted more than that amount. At one time, a gauge that existed on the tunnel showed a yearly diversion of 4,474 acre feet.
Sanpete has also been able to negotiate over the years to pick up other water rights. A 1984 agreement gave them an additional 5,400 acre feet more than what they can legally draw from Fairview Lake.
The recent emergence of Sanpete’s plan to build the Gooseberry Narrows project represents a continuing chapter regarding the struggle about water in the region.
The proposed dam would be constructed so the reservoir would cover Utah Highway 264 between Flat Canyon and Skyline Drive with 17,000 acre feet of water. The project would allow the water Sanpete would garner from the reservoir to pass through Fairview tunnel.
The water in the drainage presently passing down Gooseberry Creek into Fish Creek is one of the major resources that fills Scofield Reservoir. The water ultimately ends up in homes, factories and in agricultural areas of Carbon County.
In comparison, the water Sanpete wants to draw off and send to the west side of the mountains apparently would be used primarily for agriculture and only benefit the northern region of the county.
Construction of the dam will not only require plugging Gooseberry Creek and relocating the highway, but will also require a significant mitigation for wetland losses and fisheries downstream.
The inflow into Scofield, one of the most popular fisheries in the state, could decrease by 20 percent in normal years, according to state data. During drought years, the flow could drop as low as 50 percent.
The cost of the Gooseberry-Narrows project is estimated at approximately $23 million. Most of the money to build the dam would come from the federal government with some funding provided by state sources.
Other potential impacts of the Gooseberry dam include possible shutdowns at Castle Gate power plant during times of low stream flows and adding to the water problems at Skyline mine.
The coal mining company has already announced an indefinite shutdown next year at the Skyline operation.
With a decreased flow into Scofield Reservoir, problems arise with not quality, but unusable water in the lake.
In 1992 after a four-year drought, Carbon County had to dredge Scofield with road equipment in order to get water to the outlets.
As with most reservoirs, Scofield has dead space or water that cannot be drawn when the lake drops to a certain level.
At Scofield, the dead space in the reservoir accounts for about 7,000 acre feet of water.
If the decreased flows associated with the Gooseberry-Narrows project had been in effect in 1992, the usable water in Scofield Reservoir would most likely have run out at least a year before the drought ended, according to state and local data.
People opposed to the Gooseberry dam’s construction point to three main reasons for not building the structure.
Opponents emphasize that monitoring the amount of water Sanpete County is actually taking out of the drainage at present is poor at best.
Some opponents to Gooseberry dam’s construction estimate that Sanpete may be taking up to 40,000 acre feet from the drainage system.
Private citizens, water interests and public officials opposing Gooseberry-Narrows stress the fact that the state engineer’s office recently indicated that many of the water rights at locations across Utah are already seriously overextended.
Therefore, there could be more rights appropriated in the Price River drainage than the system has the water to fill.
Finally, opponents to the Sanpete proposal are concerned about the monetary costs of completing the Gooseberry-Narrows project.
The opponents feel that spending more than $20 million to build a dam that will only benefit several hundred farmers is not only unethical but also unbeneficial and costly to society at large.
In the past few weeks, a number of meetings have been conducted by the United States Bureau of Reclamation regarding the Gooseberry-Narrows project.
The majority of the meeting involved representatives from federal and state agencies.
Sanpete officials also participated in the meetings along with staffers from all of Utah’s congressional delegation offices, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson.
“We became aware of that situation some time ago,” pointed out Alyson Heyrend, the congressman’s press secretary, Tuesday. “We sent a letter about the fact we would like to be involved. Recently, one of our staffers has been attending meetings concerning the situation. But I am not sure of the details.”
At present, there are at least two meetings scheduled by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide information to the communities involved.
The first meeting will be conducted Sept. 22 starting at 5:30 p.m. in the Carbon County Courthouse.
The second meeting is slated Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sanpete County Courthouse.
Officials from the federal agency have stressed that the meetings are not public hearings where the bureau will accept comments from citizens.
But Carbon County residents who attend the local meeting will have access to information that may have not been previously available, according to BOR.

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