Staff column: If water isn't important, what is?
It would be easy to throw in the towel and say let Sanpete build the Gooseberry Dam. It would end years of animosity and court battles. We do have some overwhelming odds to over come and it would be easy to give up.
But it's not something I see people from Carbon County doing. What those on the other side of the mountain forget is that we have been in a battle with much of the rest of the state since we were settled. We have fought discrimination because of our heritage, arrogance because our area has so many working blue collar people, politics because we dare to be different from the rest of the state, and ignorance based on tales carried by media and others of what goes on in our wonderful area. But this hasn't been all bad; it has made us "Carbon tough."
We are Utah's best kept secret when it comes to a place where to live. But there are those that would like to destroy this charming and wonderful place that has down-to-earth people who care about their communities.
The looming meetings this week with the Bureau of Reclamation in Manti and Price gives the public an opportunity to voice their opinions on a very important subject - water. And Carbon people need to speak up, even if they have never taken sides on anything before.
It's very easy in our culture of electronic gadgets, high speed Internet and technologically advanced machines to forget that the true wealth of a region isn't about what man has created with his brain, but what Mother Nature supplies to maintain the existence of life. True wealth on our planet lies in the atmosphere, the fertile lands that produce food and in the fresh water that comes from the skies and consequently the mountains above us. Without those things, life cannot go on regardless of no matter how smart we think we are or what our machines can do.
Carbon County is a desert county. With less than one foot of natural precipitation a year, the area that stretches from Wellington to Helper would look like Clark Valley near East Carbon without culinary water and irrigation. It would be a combination of rabbit brush, juniper and thin grass. When the pioneers came here 130 years ago, that is exactly what they found.
Populations of people exist and thrive in desert regions because, unlike other animals on the planet, man has been able to utilize the sources of water that are available to him. Once that civilization is established in an area it still needs that water to continue to thrive. If it is taken away by either natural means or by other men, that civilization tends to wither away. Examples of that abound around the world.
The Gooseberry Narrows project would not take all of Carbon County's water away, but it could have a direct impact on how much there is available for future growth, and more importantly subsistence in drought years. We have already seen years when Scofield Reservoir had levels of water at dangerously low levels, even with the water from the Gooseberry drainage helping it out. For a couple of drought years in the past decade, the only thing that saved us from drastic water cuts in the valley was the fact that so much water was coming out of the flooded Skyline Mine.
No one disputes that Sanpete is owed their 5,400 acre feet of water each irrigation season. Their problem is pretty much one of storage so the water can be spread out throughout the summer season rather than run off before the middle of July. But let's not be fooled by that; this is as much about politics and power as it is about water. The power will lie in the hands of those that control the pool of water which will be behind the proposed dam at all times; a quantity much greater than what they require. And while the stated purpose of the water use would be for irrigation (at the very high cost of building a dam in modern times mind you) we all know that often agricultural water ends up eventually being used for industrial and commercial use.
The meeting in Price on Thursday night will be a comment meeting. There has been talk that some people from Sanpete may come to try and fill the audience with pro-dam people. The Sanpete Messenger pointed out in a story last week that based on the advice of their lobbying contractor (yes they have a lobbyist working on this project for them, or as it is called by Sanpete a public affairs consulting firm) was that Sanpete people should "not make an attempt to overrun the Price meeting" by coming over the mountain.
Beside the fact that this dam could dry up some of Carbon County's water, there are other reasons to oppose this project.
*Environmentally it could make a mess by destroying habitat for fish in both parts of Gooseberry Creek and Fish Creek.
*It is a desert basin to desert basin diversion, which gives very little value for the money that would be expended. As it stands it only would benefit a few hundred farmers in Sanpete County at the cost of damaging Carbon's established economy.
*The supplies may be inadequate to have both reservoirs on the same drainage. The water in that area is within the confines of the Colorado River Compact because it eventually ends up in the Colorado River. Questions even remain as to whether the water that Sanpete County claims is allocated within that compact properly.
*Inadequate supplies of water in drought years could precipitate the shutdown of the Carbon Power Plant at times. While it is not a large plant, in the heat of summer with everyone along the Wasatch Front sweltering and their air conditioners running, this could be a real problem. While the Wasatch Front (other than the politicians) are paying little attention to this project, they should, because it will affect them.
There is a lot to consider.
The SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) is supposed to cover all the bases that were missed the first time the report was done in the early 1990s. Obviously, this is a fight that won't go away easily.
I think of all the money and time that has been wasted on this trans-basin diversion idea that would make John Wesley Powell roll over in his grave and it just makes me wonder if we couldn't have come up with a solution with all the treasure that has been expended and not be fighting this battle anymore. It really has become a battle of wills. Sanpete, acting as an innocent victim of court battles and Carbon's selfishness, continually plays up their role as a place that isn't getting their due. They have even set up a Web site for their side to cling to for talking points at the meetings. You can view it by going to www.narrowsproject.com. The site contains reference after reference of big bad Carbon County keeping them from their property and their right to the water that is theirs. Funny thing is that they are getting the water every year through the present diversion tunnels, just not in the way they want it.
One part of the site compares a neighbor (Sanpete) lending a shovel (water) to another neighbor (Carbon) for a few years and then asking for it back, but the neighbor that has the shovel won't return it. But the fact is, they have had their shovel all along; now they want Carbon to let them keep their shovel and then give them three or four more shovels because they need extras to be sure they have enough of them in case they don't have enough to go around.
Consequently we need to fill the Price Civic Auditorium with people from our area on Thursday night; people who will comment intelligently on why this project should not take place. Then we also need to write emails and letters to the Bureau of Reclamation commenting on the project as well as to our congressional delegation, the governor and others.
We still have a chance to beat this thing, but Sanpete has been putting their ducks in a row pretty well. Defeat of the project is not a sure thing, even though we have won battles in the past. And you can be sure this will not be the last battle of this 80 year water war either.
We need to continue to be "Carbon tough."