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Front Page » July 29, 2008 » Carbon County News » Aquifer plan fails at Gooseberry
Published 2,632 days ago

Aquifer plan fails at Gooseberry

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In a report released earlier this month, the high hopes of using a natural aquifer to store water for Sanpete County from the Gooseberry drainage were dashed. The report said that such a plan would be so expensive and extensive to implement that it would not work.

In the last couple of years, officials from various agencies, including those from the Carbon County Water Conservancy District have been trying to negotiate a way for Sanpete County to be able to store the 5400 acre feet of water that they have rights to without building the controversial Gooseberry Narrows dam project. While a number of alternatives have been offered, the aquifer idea held great promise.

The report was a supplement update of the Sanpete Water Conservancy District master plan that was formulated in 2000, another update of that same plan that was released in 2003. The recent update states that the "implementation of the district's 5400 acre-feet water right on Gooseberry Creek has yet to be realized" to develop water for "an additional supply of municipal water to offset current shortages and accommodate anticipated growth in the project area." The other goalsw of the master plan is to "provide late season irrigation water to offset some of the current shortages" and to "provide recreation and fishery opportunities."

Since the early 1900's a dispute over water from the drainage has been a contentious issue between Carbon and Sanpete Counties, with Emery County also having some interest in the situation as well. The natural drainage of the water flows down Gooseberry Creek, into Fish Creek and then that waterway joins with the White River to form the Price River. The Price River is the main water supply for most of Carbon County and in the early years, a number of attempts to dam the creeks for sustained water throughout the irrigation season were attempted. In 1917 a dam called the Mammoth failed before completion by some Carbon County interests and flooded many areas downstream causing vast damage to the town of Castle Gate which was located just above Helper in Price Canyon. In addition, a first Scofield Dam on Fish Creek came close to failing and was rendered useless in the 1920's when the reservoir behind it had to be drained to a very low level because of faults in the dam's structure.

Scofield Dam as it exists today was built in the early to mid-1940s and some spillway work on it is currently underway. When that structure was built, it was with the idea that eventually some kind of dam may be built on Gooseberry Creek, but just after World War II, despite the continued acrimony concerning drainage rights, it seemed that Sanpete County lost interest in building a dam and congress never put in specific legislation to build the structure. In the later 1940's however, the idea of the Gooseberry Narrows project came up again and at the time the Bureau of Reclamation, said the idea of any dam above Scofield was dead. But in the ensuing 60 years the cause of the dam has been championed by the Sanpete Conservancy District time and time again with various politicians coming and going supporting the idea. A number of lawsuits concerning the idea have also been launched with most ending in a morass of legal tie-ups. One dispute that ended in Sanpete's favor, however, was that in 1984 when Carbon acknowledged the right of Sanpete County to 5,400 acre feet of water from the drainage. A tunnel that was built early in the last century still exists and diverts that water from the drainage. Carbon acknowledges Sanpete's rights to that water, however, they say that Sanpete already gets that water through the existing system. Sanpete still wants to construct some kind of storage facility for the water so it just isn't available during runoff season as it is now but for later in the irrigation season when it is needed.

Carbon County interests oppose the proposed Gooseberry Narrows project because they feel that to maintain a 17,000 acre foot reservoir with water and then keep a dead pool available in the reservoir continually. A great deal of water that now flows into Scofield Reservoir will be diverted and Scofield will never be able to reach a maximum capacity again. The construction of the dam is also opposed by the Stonefly Society, the Utah Council Trout Unlimited, Utah Waters, Utah Rivers Council and Pacificorp. Pacificorp opposes the dam because of concerns about adequate water supplies to operate its Carbon Power Plant in Price Canyon.

While the report addressed other storage options such as the Oak Creek Reservoir that would be built on the west slope of the Wasatch Plateau, the aquifer idea which seemed to hold such promise in both terms of use and expense was dismissed for a number of reasons. Using the aquifer would require that water from early in the season be injected into the ground and then removed later in the year for use during a drier time. But the report points out the following reasons this could not be done.

•The lack of a homgenous aquifer, big enough to hold 4000 acre feet of water in northern Sanpete County.

•To flow water into an aquifer would require extensive construction of diversion dams and canals which would require and Environmental Impact Study and impact upon wetlands in the area would require a 404 permit (an exemption by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to do the work needed).

•Water injected in any aquifer used would require that water be treated to drinking water standards before it is injected, making the process cost prohibitive. A way around this would be to let the water infiltrate the ground rather than be actively injected, but that would require a very large infiltration pond and settling basin which is essentially a small reservoir. Any such reservoir could instead be used to store the water anyway, doing away with any need for putting the water in the aquifer.

•A problem with water migrating into existing deep wells from a relatively shallow aquifer in which the water would be held could present environmental problems and would not be permitted.

•The draw down of other wells in the area could be high and that is not permitted by the state water engineers office.

Today's story is the first portion of a two part series chronicling the Gooseberry dam issue.

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