Colorado River compact, Gooseberry project, CUP tie together in controversial fabric over the years
Water is an important commodity in Utah, particularly in the arid Eastern region.
In the very first issue of The Eastern Utah Telegraph, the first newspaper published in Price, the front page featured a story about how wasted water could be utilized by a series of storage facilities.
Published Jan. 15, 1891, the article stated: "It is estimated that there are over 65,000 acres of land under cultivation in Emery County. We mean by this, land under ditch and well, irrigated and an ample supply of water at all times. Water for four times this amount of land can be obtained from the running streams by building reservoirs in which to save it for future use, when it is not needed for irrigation, there being natural sites for them in the numerous canyons adjacent to the streams when the cost would be small."
Support for damming streams to supply water came when resources in the area were first being developed. But, at that time, few people realized what water would come to mean in the West in the next 100 years. They probably could not envision multi-state agreements like the Colorado River Compact. They had no way of knowing that concrete plugs would eventually create storage reservoirs to save water for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses at locations downstream.
Early residents could not be expected to recognize the powerful role water would play in the West during the 20th century. They could not imagine that conservative United States officials would fight construction of two Utah dams, while consortiums of small city electric utility companies rallied Congress to bring the projects to fruition in the 1960s.
Many Utahns felt that the Colorado River Basin was the state's last large watering hole. The majority of Utah's population was distanced from this large water resource. But the state was guaranteed more than 1.7 million acre feet of water per year when a bill was introduced into the U.S. Congress in 1946 to create a development scheme called the Central Utah Project. The purpose of CUP was to send "unused" water from the Uintah Basin and the eastern slope of the Wasatch Plateau through a series of reservoirs, streams and tunnels to the Wasatch Front. However, Congress and the president decided that another multi-state water plan was a better idea. CUP was subsequently incorporated in legislation in 1948 to create the Colorado River Storage Project for the upper basin states.
CUP originated in the minds of politicians and northern Utahns, who considered the actions of the early pioneers, who diverted water from the mountains. They also studied the work of two private concerns owned by Heber Valley farmers that tapped into the resource in the Strawberry Valley for agricultural use.
On Oct. 22, 1948, the Upper Colorado River Compact was signed in Santa Fe, N.M., on the site where the original Colorado River Agreement was inked in 1922. The action represented the beginning of CUP as an agency.
The project grew, finally resulting in seven units within the area of the CUP. Initially, the plan was to build two dams in Colorado. One was located on the Yampa River and the other site was on the small section that juts into northwest Colorado, then flows back into Utah. There were also plans to construct a series of dams in the Uintah Basin and along the Wasatch Plateau, as well as building canals, tunnels and aqueducts to move water to northern Utah in consideration of population growth and agriculture.
Two of the projects would directly affect eastern Utah. One was Joe's Valley Reservoir, which was finished in the mid-1960s to supply water to Emery County. The other was the proposed Gooseberry Reservoir, which would divert water from the eastern drainage of the Wasatch Plateau into Sanpete County. While the Gooseberry was in the works at one time or another for 40 years before CUP was formed, the dam was envisioned to become part of the project in 1948.
But, before any such projects got off the ground, public opposition to the costs and questions regarding the benefits provided to taxpayers began to surface.
Bogged down in public opinion, efforts to move ahead with CUP were stymied to a greater degree by the Korean War, a time when money was diverted away from public works projects and toward the conflict with which the country was involved. But, when the war was over, the public and conservationist opposition found strong supporters of the project in the form of the Upper Basin states' political leaders as well as some grass roots pro-development organizations that were formed to get the CRSP projects started, with the CUP being the largest single unit in the overall project.
The two dams, one on the Yampa River in Colorado, as well as the Echo Park Dam in Utah in Dinosaur National Park (monument at the time), never materialized. They were staunchly opposed by early environmentalists, including a group called the Living Rivers and the Sierra Club which was led by a man named David Brower, the first executive director of the organization. Support from the general public also waned with the two projects being within the bounds of the park.
The two dams actually built on the Green River in the 1960s were the Flaming Gorge and Fontenelle Dam in Wyoming.
Many environmental groups are still opposed to these dams and are trying to get the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to consider decommissioning both of them.
Since those dams were not constructed, the first projects began in what is called the Vernal Unit of the CUP in 1959. The main dam holds the water of Steinaker Reservoir. This project provides water for the Ashley Valley.
Two other units are in the heart of the Uintah Basin. The Upalco Unit and the Jensen Unit, with Big Sand Wash Reservoir and Red Fleet Reservoir respectively, also provide water for the agricultural use of the basin.
But the unit that is considered the plum of the project, and the one that most who visualized it saw as being the most beneficial, was the Bonneville Unit. It was not only the center of the plan, but, by far, the largest and most expensive of any of the units. Work on this part of the CUP didn't begin until 1967. The first project was the creation of the earthen dam that created Starvation Reservoir, the first large reservoir and dam to be created within the project.
With that project initiated, the process then moved to the Strawberry Valley, where the small well- known fishery, Strawberry Reservoir, was about to grow four times larger (in terms of water acreage) behind a new dam called Soldier Creek. Soldier Creek Dam has nearly quadrupled the capacity of Strawberry Reservoir from 283,000 to 1,106,500 acre feet.
This project was built to directly take water that falls in the western part of the Uinta Mountains to the Wasatch Front. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Bonneville Unit, which is still under construction, is the largest and most complex of the authorized units of the Central Utah Project. More water for the Wasatch Front will be made possible by the unit plan and a trans-basin diversion of water. This complex unit includes 10 new reservoirs, more than 200 miles of aqueducts, tunnels, and canals; a power plant, pumping plants, and 300 miles of drains.
Much of the rest of the Bonneville Unit's infrastructure has been constructed to make up for losses that the Wasatch diversion of water is taking away. For instance, Starvation Reservoir, constructed on the Strawberry River about three miles above Duchesne, has a capacity of 167,000 acre feet. It stores high flows of the Duchesne and Strawberry River. Storage water is used for the late season irrigation of about 26,000 acres of land along the Duchesne River and to replace water presently used in that area which is being diverted to the Bonneville Basin.
The Duchesne River Area Canal Rehabilitation Program, which is nearly complete, will rehabilitate about 40.9 miles of existing canals along the Duchesne River to conserve about 14,000 acre-feet of water presently lost to seepage.
Crossing the south flank of the Uintah Mountains, the Strawberry Aqueduct, about 37 miles long, collects flows from Rock Creek and eight other tributaries of the Duchesne River and delivers the water to Strawberry Reservoir. The Upper Stillwater and Currant Creek Reservoirs serve as regulating reservoirs along the aqueduct.
To compensate the Ute Indian Tribe for economic losses associated with stream fishing, Bottle Hollow Reservoir, located near Fort Duchesne, was constructed to provide recreation, fishing, and wildlife activities.
Water descending about 2,600 feet to the Bonneville Basin floor from Strawberry Reservoir flows through the Diamond Fork System. The water flowing into the Bonneville Basin will be stored in Utah Lake and the existing Mona and Sevier Bridge Reservoirs. Project water collected in Utah Lake will be exchanged upstream on the Provo River and be stored in the 320,300 acre-foot capacity Jordanelle Reservoir constructed 6 miles north of Heber City. A large portion of the water from Jordanelle Reservoir will be used for municipal and industrial purposes in northern Utah and Salt Lake Counties.
The current construction in the first few miles of Spanish Fork Canyon in Utah County along Highway 6 that has been ongoing since the middle of 2008 is part of that project. The pipeline is being laid in three phases (the first of which is completed) and will be finished in late 2010.
The decision to change the water route on this part of the project, along with other decisions over the years, has steeped the CUP in controversy since its creation.
The Bonneville Unit of the CUP and its diversion program may be the biggest and may have sparked much more controversy statewide than others, but few projects compare in longevity or local controversy than the Gooseberry Narrows Project which was born in the minds of men nearly 100 years ago and has had formal plans concerning it for 80 years.
Editors note: This is a first in series of articles concerning the history of the Gooseberry Narrows Project and associated water projects on the Colorado Plateau.