Water supply, established rights remain major concern in Carbon
Water and the rights to it have always been serious issues in Carbon County. From the beginning of settlement in the 1870s by pioneers, water was one of the main priorities of the community.
Water, its acquisition and the completion of facilities to not only store but to transport it were always cause for celebration in eastern Utah.
The main water source for Carbon County residents lies in the mountains, specifically the Wasatch Plateau.
In the early days, when Carbon and Emery were one county, every victory involving a water issue was cause for joy.
For instance, not too many years after settlement started, irrigation ditches began to appear throughout the area.
The initial ditches soon became too small to carry the amounts of water needed for the growing number of farmers in the Castle Valley region.
By the late 1880s, residents in the Castle Valley region realized that it was time to construct canals to divert water from the Price River to supply agriculture, one of the primary sources of livelihood in the area.
Many of the canals have since been piped and pressurized. But virtually nothing was done with runoff before the structures were built.
The canals were built as the Carbon County area developed and runoff simply flowed naturally across virgin ground into the Price River through one of the natural washes.
At the time, there was no development for heavy thunderstorms to inundate. Many of the canals recently covered and pressurized as well as the few that remain open are more than 100 years old.
The canals became a part of Carbon County life, at times sources of celebration and at other times fountains of hatred or even violence.
In January 1891, the Spring Glen Canal Company completed a 386-foot tunnel to divert water through an area where a cliff was blocking the way to other agriculture land.
The Eastern Utah Telegraph reported that a celebration was staged for the event in Spring Glen. The completion of the diversion tunnel was welcomed with musical numbers, speeches, a tour of the work that had been done and a picnic lunch. An evening of dancing went on until midnight as residents celebrated the event.
In the early days of the area, as it was with many western towns there was a lot of lawlessness. Therefore, almost everyone owned a firearm and many people carried the devices at will.
There were numerous instances of so-called "accidental" shootings reported in the newspapers in the early days, with a significant share of the incidents relating to water or, more to the point, the supposed improper appropriation of such by one person or another.
As the Castle Valley region became more civilized, the Carbon County area also began to change. The railroad had come through the area in 1883 carrying with it many different people.
The coal industry began to boom around that same time and by the early 1900s agriculture had taken a back seat to mining as far as a revenue source for many local residents. It was at this point that the municipal water supplies became ever more important.
One of the first dams was built in 1891 when the Price Water Company constructed a dam that captured water in the Price area. The dam was 350 feet long and cost between $1,500 and $2,000 to construct at the time. The location of where this dam was is unclear today, but it apparently was not adequate or did not last because a few years later the town began to talk of building a large reservoir.
In the Jan. 16, 1902 edition of the Telegraph, the city was planning a new reservoir by buying some property from the state and build the reservoir above the "Mathis Hotel and to bring water through iron or wooden pipes to the reservoir" at a diversion point somewhere "below Castle Gate, above the alkali flat."
While no further mention of the project was made in subsequent issues of the newspaper, there is not question that a number of water projects to supply water to Price were put together in the ensuing years until World War I. The largest of the storage projects was the Mammoth Dam above where Scofield Reservoir is presently located.
Its creation and subsequent demise not only led to the construction of Scofield Reservoir, but marked the basic beginnings of a struggle between the eastern and western slopes of the Wasatch Plateau regarding the right to water in the mountains.