Gooseberry opponents square off, fight congressional battle in 1950s
|A cement buttress still stands at the top of where the old Mammoth Dam was located until 1917, when the structure collapsed. The break sent flooding water down Price Canyon and into the Carbon County valley. Sanpete County's Gooseberry-Narrows water development plan proposes constructing a dam in the vicinity of the Mammoth site. During the mid-1950s, the proposed Gooseberry was as controversial as the issue continues to be.|
It's difficult to predict what John Wesley Powell, the primary explorer of the Colorado River, might think about how the water in the drainage is being used.
But based on records of Powell's ideas for the development of the area, the explorer would probably be opposed to the transbasin diversions that have taken place during the last 75 years.
Primarily a geologist and an ethnologist, Powell took interest in the development of hydrology after taking his trips down the Green and Colorado rivers. He later started one of the first schools to train hydrologists in New Mexico.
Powell reportedly stated that water should never be taken out of its natural drainage to improve or develop other areas.
But transbasin diversions have played a crucial role in the devepment in the West. In the Colorado drainage area, Phoenix and Las Vegas rely on water from the Central Arizona Project and Lake Mead in respectively.
Water from the Colorado drainage via the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project (CUP) has basically fueled much of Salt Lake City's growth since the 1960s.The Salt Lake Valley, which in the 1950s had around 250,000 people, would have never been able to expand to almost a million without the water.
The initial CUP plans included more than providing water for the northern Wasatch Front through diversions. The original bill introduced into the United States Congress included the rebirth of the Gooseberry-Narrows dam. The rumbles of the move started in the late 1940s and, by the mid-1950s, the subject reached a crescendo as Congress neared approval of the CUP legislation.
CUP is part of the Colorado River Storage Project. The project was a development of the Upper Colorado River Compact signed in 1948 by Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and later by Arizona.
The controversy regarding Gooseberry reared again in 1954 and, by January 1955, hot debate was going on within state government and at the federal level about the inclusion of the project within the overall plans for the CUP.
It was during the month in question that 12 local representatives traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with George D. Clyde, chairman of the Utah Water and Power Board.
The trip was an attempt to disarm the movement to get Gooseberry going again and to short circuit the CUP bill in Congress that included the project.
The momentum Gooseberry had started to gain kept mounting and, in mid-February, a meeting for the public and officials was conducted at the Price Civic Auditorium.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sent field solicitor Stuart McMaster and Scofield project engineer Parley B. Neeley to meet with the assembled group.
Representatives from local water organizations, the county and all of the cities that would be affected by the proposed project were present.
That meeting defined two things.
One, Carbon interests were opposed to the entire Upper Colorado project as long as Gooseberry was part of it
And two, if the county was not heard at the local level, a committee would be sent to Washington, D.C. When the time was right, the members of the local committee would let the U.S. Congress know how Carbon residents felt about the project.
As for BOR, personnel from the federal agency conveyed the communication that the bureau was not taking sides on the issue.
Yet most Carbon County officials felt that BOR was in favor of building Gooseberry, despite the federal agency's issuance of a report a few years before indicating that construction of the dam was "economically unfeasible."
Local opponents pointed out that most of the water in the drainage - with the exception of the amount already taken by the Fairview Lakes via a tunnel into Sanpete County - had been Carbon's since the beginning of water right movements in Utah.
The opponents pointed out that, without the water that had been available for years and had been planned on, the "situation will become critical and future development and growth in (the) area will be curtailed."
However, proponents of Gooseberry were working just as hard to get the project approved in the upcoming session of the Congress.
The Sanpitch Water Users, Sanpete Water Users Association and a number of citizens met with the state engineer's office suring a special meeting to detail the support for proceeding with the project.
The proponents aruged that the Gooseberry project was as vital to Sanpete as Scofield had been to Carbon County..
Supporters of building the dam also pointed out that a looming water shortage in Sanpete County would soon cause farms to be abandoned. Abandoned farms would cause economic hardship not only to the individuals involved in the agriculture community, but the county as a whole.
The project's proponents maintained that Sanpete had valid water filings in the Gooseberry drainage, recognized not only by the state engineer's office, but also by BOR.
Supporters of Gooseberry-Narrows pointed out that Sanpete had allowed the Scofield reconstruction project to start in 1943 without protest.
The Price River Water Users Association had signed a contract with U.S. Reclamation Bureau indicating that Carbon residents, in turn ,would recognize the rights of Sanpete County when the time came for the Gooseberry dam to be constructed, added the project supporters.
The group of proponents felt that, since Carbon County was paying back only slightly more than $100,000 of the $1 million it cost to build Scofield dam, it would be unfair for Sanpete to absorb 50 percent of the cost of building the Gooseberry project.
In the 1950s, the total costs of completing the Gooseberry dam were estimated to register at $6 million.
The stage was set for a major battle, one that would take place 2,500 miles away from the proposed project site. The fight would occur on the banks of the Potomac River in the U.S. Capitol. Within two months, a decision would be made that has repercussions for water users in Carbon County and the Sanpete area 50 years later.