Building, filling Scofield was a challenge
Building a dam during a world war, when materials and manpower were short, was not an easy thing to do.
Filling the reservoir behind it was not easy either.
In 1946, just after four long years of war ended, the Bureau of Reclamation finally started filling Scofield Reservoir with water. That's not to say that there wasn't water there before.
Pleasant Valley once had cabins and some farms before the mid 1920s. At that time the first attempt to build a dam took place and it lasted for only a short while before it started to fail. It was eventually breached and while the idea of having a large reservoir there continued on, its start didn't come until about 1940.
When the war came it was determined that a dam was needed to help control flooding downstream in heavy runoff years and to aide industry and agriculture in the Carbon County area. After all, Carbon had a population of over 30,000 people at the time, and it was the biggest coal producing county in Utah. That energy was a key to powering a lot of industry at the time; industry that provided materials for the war effort.
Construction of a new dam began in 1943, but material and manpower shortages plagued the construction. Most of the men young enough to do such labor were either in the military or working in mines. There were also only certain months during which the dam could be built, because of inclement weather that usually hit in October and then with the snow lasted until April. Labor was recruited from all quarters to build the structure, including high school students during the summer months. The main construction company on the dam was W.W. Clyde of Springville.
By the beginning of 1946, the dam was nearly finished. While the war had ended, the money spent and the dream of a reservoir for a more stable supply of water to the lower valleys was becoming a reality. Unlike the Mammoth Dam that collapsed in 1917 and the first Scofield Dam that was built in during the Roaring 20s this dam was professionally engineered and construction was overseen by the BOR.
So, while some finishing touches needed to be put on the dam (those would be done that summer) the BOR announced on April 4, 1946 that they would begin filling the reservoir, hopeful that the full 73,000 acre foot capacity could be reached within a couple of years.
But the land in the bottom of the valley was not dry; it was covered with water already, backing up from the small dam that still remained after the 1928 emergency repairs. It had been restricted to not over 30,000 acre feet ever since. About 14,000 acre feet of water was there when the large filling operation began. To do so the old dam was completely breached (its sides can still be seen if one stands on on the present dam and looks west).
But despite the completion, some problems remained. A number of buildings and cabins located around where the reservoir began to grow were below where the water line would actually reach when it was full. Most of these were on what would be the north shore (Sun Advocate, April 4, 1946) and the BOR said that the owners of some of them were unknown.
"The lake will be 18 feet higher (that previous reservoir storage) than ever before," stated an article in the Sun Advocate. "If the lake fills completely."
In addition at the time a mile of Highway 96 would have also been covered by the top level of the reservoir. This meant that it would need to be raised, which the Utah State Road Commission (the predecessor to UDOT) was planning on doing.
The agreement at the time was that once the reservoir reached reasonable levels, 8,000 acre feet of the water would be always held in the lake for the Utah State Fish and Game Department (the predecessor of the Division of Wildlife Resources).
The construction of the dam had taken a year longer than expected, largely because of the material and manpower shortages. The original cost of the dam was estimated to be (in 1940 dollars) $840,00, but in the end it cost over $900,000 to complete ( in today's dollars almost $10.5 million).
An early thaw in the snow in the mountains that year added to the reservoirs pool rapidly. By mid-May there was approximately 31,500 acre feet behind the dam (Sun Advocate, May 16), which included the 8,000 acre feet require by the state.
The finishing touches included finishing the road over the dam, putting in railing and other things that were not pertinent to water retention.
Today one can also see the dam caretakers house just southeast of the dam. That was constructed for $7,000 so John Safley, the manager of the dam could be close by at all times.