Gooseberry Narrows meeting brings out questioning crowd
|Harold Cunningham and County Commissioner Bill Krompel talk with BOR Provo office Director Bruce Barrett after the meeting on the Gooseberry Narrows on Monday evening. Many Carbon residents and officials stayed around for some time after the meeting to talk with the several representatives from the BOR, Army Corp of Engineers and representatives of Sanpete's water interests.|
A meeting Monday evening that was presented by the United States Bureau of Reclamation concerning the on again, off again Gooseberry Narrows Project, drew nearly 200 people that jammed the county commission chambers.
"As I look at this crowd we are almost at the point of moving over to the Price Civic Auditorium," said Carbon County Commissioner Steve Burge. But the people stopped coming in and the meeting went on with BOR representatives explaining the history of the project as it relates to Scofield Reservoir and Carbon County.
"We are here to give you information on the project," said Kerry Schwartz of the BOR. "We will not be taking comments tonight, this is not a public hearing. But we will entertain questions later on."
True to the way crowds at most public functions in Carbon County are, the large group stayed fairly quiet during the offering of the BOR's information, watching a power point presentation about the dam and the reservoir that the BOR and the Sanpete Water Conservancy District are proposing to build on Gooseberry Creek just about a mile north of Highway 264.
According to their information the dam would create a reservoir that would hold 17,000 acre feet of water and back up over the highway which would be relocated to pass over the new dam. The 3,100 foot long Fairview tunnel, that presently takes water over to Sanpete County from Fairview Lake will be rehabilitated to carry the extra stream load of 5,400 acre feet of water per year. The dam would be 110 feet high and have two outlets: one through the dam to release water downstream and the other to supply the tunnel water at a maximum of 60 cubic feet per second.
The legal water rights that Sanpete has to the Price River draining include over 3,000 acre feet of water they have been entitled to since Fairview Lake was built in the late 1800's and another 5,400 acre feet they worked out in an agreement in the 1980's.
Few in Carbon county dispute what rights Sanpete has to water from the area, but they do dispute if the dam needs to be built for them to get those rights. So when the time came to ask questions, Carbon residents had a load of them and some of the questions were hard for the BOR and the engineer on the project that has been hired by Sanpete, Richard Noble, to answer in a satisfactory way.
One of the first questions asked of the visitors was why a 17,000 acre foot reservoir needed to be constructed to supply 5,400 feet of water to Sanpete.
"Not all of the 17,000 feet will be active capacity," explained Noble. "In fact 2500 feet of it will be below the level of the outlet, so that will be dead storage. The rest is a kind of bank account that can be drawn on in dry years. It carry over capacity because in normal water years the dam will store just about all the water that in that watershed."
Schwartz also explained the factors for building the dam have been taken into account and the newest draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) will be out in November.
"The public will have 60 days to comment on what they see there," he said.
In the past two other EIS documents were produced, one, from the early 90's has been known as the "blue book" and the other, done in 1998 is called the "green book."
"There is basically no difference between that document and the latest report we will be doing. The biggest difference is that the new report will look at more alternatives."
At that point the group in the room started to become more vocal and began asking some questions about water rights, land and questioning the BOR's terminology.
"What I want to know is whose land you are going to grab to do some of the mitigation downstream you are talking about?" asked a landowner from the Scofield area.
"The land will be purchased from willing sellers," said Schwartz. But when pressed by those in the audience about what happens if not everyone who needs to be involved wants to be involved, officials said that they would have "other alternatives."
At one point one of the visitors pointed out that the BOR is already bargaining with the owners of the properties they need.
"No they aren't," said the woman who had asked the question. "I'm the one who owns that land."
Next in line were questions about finance and cost. Earlier in the meeting a cost of $25 million was given out as the total cost.
"It looks like to me this project is getting more expensive almost by the week," said David Brown from the Utah Rivers Council, one of the groups opposing the building of the dam. "A couple of weeks ago I was told $20 million, last week it was $23 million and now I'm hearing $25 million. This project is going to cost too much for the water it will supply."
Noble pointed out that actual cost to farmers using the water per year in Sanpete will only be $50 per annum. But this comment set off a whole other line of questioning.
"I want to know about the loan process, the source of the money to do it and how it will be repaid," said Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich.
At that point Mike Stuver, who is working on the financing for the dam explained how that part of the project is handled.
He explained that the project requires a technical study to make sure it is feasible (which has already been done). Then the project requires a project sponsor who pays one fourth of the cost up front (in this case the Sanpete Water Conservancy District and Sanpete County).
"Some of the money also comes from grants and then there are federal funds some of which require return payment with interest and some with no interest," stated Stuver. "There are limits on the repay time on these funds."
Stuver also explained that the project they are working on is considered a "small" project and falls under a certain designation.
"The Clinton administration stopped a bunch of these projects during their administration, but this one was so far along that they allowed it to go ahead."
But while the explanation took care of the mechanics it provided few details and Milovich pressed the representatives for more information.
"It looks like to us, just doing some rudimentary math here, that this water is going to cost a lot more than $50 per acre foot," he said. "I want to see a disclosure on the money in this deal. To me the figures you've given out don't add up. There must be money coming from other sources."
Noble pointed out that part of the cost will be from taxes in the Sanpete Conservancy District and Bruce Barrett, Director of the Provo office of the BOR pointed out that the payments amortize over a long period of time. But they agreed to get the figures for Milovich, a although they didn't have them on hand at the time.
Then came the inevitable question about how much Sanpete is already getting from the watershed.
County Commissioner Bill Krompel pointed to statistics from the United States Geological Survey which showed that at least in one year Sanpete had already diverted more water than they were allowed to through the existing tunnel.
"How can we know what they will take in the future will abide by the amount they are entitled to if we don't even know how much they are using without the dam in place?" he asked.
Lynna Topolovec, a member of the county planning commission also commented on the problem.
"The older draft EIS never had water measuring capabilities in it," she said. "If those aren't there the entire document doesn't mean a thing. What sources of water are they taking? Will Carbon citizens lose their direct flow rights? In bad water years will we lose our water rights? And in those years, will they be shorted as much as we are?"
The answer about measuring and water rights, according to BOR representatives all comes down to an office that has nothing to do with them. The state water engineers office.
"The state is responsible for checking on flows and whether people have rights or not," said Barrett."That responsibility does not rest on us."