Gooseberry dispute's focus switches to battle about legal water rights
Passed by the United States Congress on April 11, 1956, the Colorado River storage act identified the Gooseberry project as part of the overall package.
The act was approved despite public opposition and the initial reports in 1955 that a dam crossing a creek of the upper Price River drainage would, at most, be a "standby" project.
In the history of the dispute about the dam, the move was the most concrete action taken by the federal government up to that time.
Part of the problem with gaining the acceptance of all parties stemmed from the fact that the 1956 legislation endorsed a project that had been declared dead by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the late 1940s.
The lines of demarcation on the issue have been blurred for years. Opponents view the development as a separate entity from Scofield Dam's construction in the 1940s, while the BOR and supporters link the two directly as part of the Gooseberry project.
The dispute has switched focus from locations of dams and concrete stuctures to become more of a legal battle over the rights to the water in the drainage.
Before the 1950s, the general emphasis appeared to be on building a dam for an area lacking water, with smaller municipal populations and more agriculture. Even Carbon seemed fairly agreeable about building the Gooseberry Dam in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily because local officials and residents knew the project would bring Scofield Dam up to date. But once Sanpete pulled out of the project and did not pay the county's share of building Scofield Dam, the struggle has become more about the rights for water and how much each side of the mountain is getting.
In 1959, the battle over the rights heated up. Only three years before, Gooseberry had been included in the Upper Colorado River project as a possibility after Carbon representatives to Washington, D.C., were told that the dam was a dead issue.
The Sanpete Water Users Association then began to push the state water engineers office for legitimacy to water rights beyond what they already had due to the construction of Fairview Lake in the 19th century. The Carbon Water Conservancy District was opposed to giving Sanpete extended rights.
In the spring of 1959, the state water engineer's office gave Sanpete a two-year time period in which "to do something" about water rights the county had been claiming for nearly 60 years in the Gooseberry drainage.
The Carbon organization took the Sanpete Water Users Association to court saying that any rights Sanpete had to extra water in the drainage had long since expired because they had failed to develop or utilize the rights.
Late in July, district judge Lewis Jones of Brigham City, who had been called in to hear the case as a neutral party, handed down a memorandum opinion which verified the engineers decision.
Jones stated that because of the long history of the struggle and because of the positions both parties had taken over the years, both consistent and inconsistent, he did not feel he could overturn an order given by an administrative authority of the state.
However, the judge did state that he thought some "teeth" needed to be put into the order so that the Sanpete association would get to work on the filings rather than having them be in limbo.
The doing something was to push forward the building of a new dam. The judge allowed Sanpete to work toward putting together some type of irrigation or water conservancy district which would then levy taxes to provide funds for some type of system that would be built with the aid of state or federal monies. Once those monies were secured, then the agency could withdraw the levy or adjust it according to the funds available.
The CWCD immediately responded to the decision by appealing the case to the Utah Supreme Court. Carbon County commissioners appropriated $1,500 to fund the case.
The appeal basically stated that the filings made by Sanpete interests on the water in the Gooseberry drainage had expired. And during the terms of the filings, Sanpete had not done any improvement work, making the matter null and void.
Carbon's appeal maintained that any extension of the time Sanpete had was an error on the part of the state water engineer's office and should not have occurred.
In the next year, the battle for Gooseberry would heat up with new environmental standards.