Utah, American river councils challenging Gooseberry-Narrows
The Price River has been named as one of the nation's most endangered waterways by two state and federal organizations.
The American and Utah rivers councils made the announcement on Wednesday, citing plans to build a dam and reservoir in the headwaters.
The 20th annual America's endangered rivers report highlights waterways with what the groups feel have the most uncertain futures rather than the worst chronic problems.
The river conservation councils have called on the United States Bureau of Reclamation to reject Sanpete's proposal to construct the project and the U.S. Forest Service to strengthen watershed protections in the Price River system.
"Nobody has too much money or too much clean water," said Rebbeca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "The Gooseberry-Narrows dam would waste both to grow more alfalfa in the desert."
The Sanpete Water Conservancy District is asking BOR to build a dam on Gooseberry Creek, a major Price River tributary.
The proposal calls for constructing 17,000 acre-foot reservoir and piping one-third of the water across the Wasatch Plateau to irrigators in Sanpete County, noted the groups.
The approximately 250 irrigators would use most of the water to grow a third cutting of alfalfa, pointed out the groups. And it is likely that one day the water would be transferred to municipal use.
According to the council members, the dam would drown valuable habitat upstream and deplete the downstream.
The organizations report that more than four miles of streams and 100 acres of valuable wetlands habitat would be flooded under the reservoir.
Downstream, lower flows would reduce water levels for many miles. Reportedly, portions of Gooseberry Creek could drop by as much as 74 percent and Fish Creek could drop by as much as 24 percent.
The lower flows could lead to decreased water levels in Scofield Reservoir and reduce the amount of water for Carbon County residents to meet their basic needs. Lower flows in Gooseberry and Fish creeks could damage popular fisheries of rainbow and cutthroat trout making the areas less attractive to anglers, boaters and campers.
"The proposed Gooseberry Narrows Dam would siphon water from Carbon County and money from the public purse," said Merritt Frey, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. "Even at the conservative estimate for construction costs of $25 million, providing this water will cost taxpayers more than $4,500 per acre-foot."
The Price River and its tributaries, Gooseberry and Fish creeks, are surrounded by the scenic canyons of the Wasatch Plateau and are home to a variety of fish and wildlife. The Price River watershed, wild enough to qualify for a National Wild and Scenic designation, offers rafting, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities. Recreation and tourism play an increasingly large role in the economy along the Price River.
"The communities in the Price River watershed can ill-afford to have their valuable natural assets drowned or depleted to provide water for interests that have other water supply options," states the councils.
The Sanpete Water Conservancy District is asking the Bureau of Reclamation to advance the dam proposal and release its findings for public comments. Conservation groups have called on the Bureau of Reclamation to reject the proposal and act on recommendations developed by community groups that propose meeting Sanpete County's need by improving the efficiency of existing water delivery and irrigation systems.
When contacted, Richard Lee, president of the Carbon Water Conservancy District said they had no comment on the release because they had not seen it yet.
This summer, the Forest Service will release its management plans for the Manti-La Sal National Forest which contains Gooseberry and Fish creeks. The groups urged the agency to recommend the Lower Gooseberry and Fish creeks for National Wild and Scenic Rivers designation. The designation would end this and any future prospects of dam construction on the creeks.