Sanpete water users buy land in Carbon
Property near Scofield would be used to mitigate impacts of Narrows project
The Sanpete Water Conservancy District purchased a large chunk of land near the south shore of Scofield Reservoir in December, giving Sanpete the ability to provide mitigation space should the Gooseberry Narrows Project ever come to fruition.
The project, which has been a center of contention between the two counties for over 70 years, was approved by the United States Bureau of Reclamation in a Record of Decision in January 2013. Now Sanpete has to find the money to build the dam and reservoir.
In purchasing the property, the SWCD had to also raise property taxes, according to a news story in the Sanpete Messenger Jan. 2.
According to that report, the SWCD had initially given notice that they intended to issue a general obligation bond to produce the money for the property, but instead worked out a deal with Zion's Bank to buy the land, which was previously owned by Utahna Jones Family Trust. The Quit Claim Deed was recorded at the Carbon County Recorder's office on Dec. 18, 2013. The property lies on the southwest corner of Scofield Reservoir and consists of wet land space.
According to the Messenger, Dave Cox, the secretary for the SWCD, the property, the district needed to find land in Carbon County to meet the demands of state and federal agencies that are involved in the project.
"We are purchasing property for the Narrows Dam site mitigation and for mitigation effects on wetlands," the Messenger quoted Cox as saying. "We have been looking to get some property for the mitigation in Carbon because that is where Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers want it done.Since they are in the driver's seat, we are doing what they want us to."
The controversy over the dam has been ongoing since the late 1930's although it was before that that the idea of a dam in the area of the Narrows to be used for a Sanpete County water supply came to be. In 1915-17 a group of Carbon water owners and investors build a dam in the Narrows area called the Mammoth Dam. However the engineering on the dam was flawed and in the spring of 1918 that dam collapsed, sending a billion gallons of water down Fish Creek and into the Price River. There was extensive damage in Castle Gate and Helper from that flood. One woman lost her life in Price when she fell off a bridge watching the water flow down the Price River.
A little less than a decade later, the first Scofield Dam was built but it also was flawed and had to be drained down in an emergency procedure and was never very effective for holding back water after that. In the early 1940s ground was broken on the dam that exists and creates Scofield Reservoir today. It was deemed finished and ready for full use right after World War II. As part of the deal for building the Scofield Dam it was agreed that Sanpete's Narrows dam would be built later. However after the war the BOR said the idea was dead and abandoned the concept. After only a few years, however, the idea was resurrected.
That was when the lawsuits and disputes of the building of the dam began in earnest. While the whole affair is complicated with actions on both the Sanpete side and on the Carbon side over the years it boils down to that Sanpete feels it needs a way to store its water so it can always be available rather than settling for what runs off in the spring and early summer. Sanpete has a right to 5,400 acre feet of water which is presently diverted through trans-basin tunnels and into the Sanpete valley. The water however lays in the natural drainage of the Colorado River basin. Carbon continues to claim that Sanpete gets all the water they own and should not have more.
The plan the SWCD was to see enacted would place the dam in the Gooseberry Narrows and would back up 17,000 acre feet of water of which they would use their allotment each year. But Carbon interests feel that would take a huge amount of water away from the present supply for Carbon County and would affect Scofield Reservoir in negative ways, particularly in drought years.
Environmental studies, as well as studies for alternatives to the dam have been done by the BOR have been done a number of times, yet the it always seems to come down to building the dam that Sanpete envisions.
With the record of decision that came down last year, the BOR has said the dam could be built. However that ROD did not suggest or imply funding from the BOR or any federal agency for the construction of the dam. Depending on who comments on it the costs for the dam and range from $30 million to near $100 million dollars. The Messenger reported in the January article that Cox said that the cost of the project has not yet been determined and the size of it would be determined by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The purchase of the property by Sanpete on the shores of Scofield Reservoir is another step toward Sanpete fulfilling what it needs to do for the construction of the Narrows Project. The tax increase on residents of about $16 per year per property will only pay for the property that was purchased.
The Messenger reported that the payment on the property is about $100,000 a year.