It is said there is nothing more valuable then water in the western United States.
If that is true than the value of that water may go up even more if the Gooseberry Narrows Project is allowed to be built because the cost of constructing the dam to hold the reservoir has doubled since 2004 according to a study commissioned by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
In the report the consultant that developed the study, CH2M Hill, looked at many of the different options that have been put forth over the years to provide water to northern Sanpete County. The next to most expensive of those is the one that Sanpete has been adamant about for years; building a 17,000 acre foot reservoir to provide about 5400 acre feet of water a year to the areas including and surrounding Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City and Moroni. The estimated cost to build the large narrows dam option and rehabilitate the tunnels to carry the water to the Sanpete valley is estimated at $59,355, 200 as compared with an estimated cost of about $24 million in 2004. The current estimate also does not include the engineering for the project, contract administration, land acquisition, permitting, environmental documentation or any mitigation that might be required if such a project was built.
"Ultimately, any alternative that incorporates construction of a new dam and diversion system is going to cost upwards of $40 million and those costs are infeasible," said Amy Defreese of the Utah Rivers Council which opposes the construction of the reservoir. "We no longer live in the 20th century, when expensive water development projects were funded by the federal government. It is a new era; one of using our existing water supplies more efficiently."
The report which was put on the CUP's website in early July, was released as an update to a master plan that Sanpete County produced in the 1990's concerning water development and use. The consulting firm looked at the steps the county has taken to conserve water, other alternatives for storing it and what could be done to provide water for the late summer and early fall when runoffs are low and farmers need it for irrigating crops such as alfalfa.
The reports figures were based on what projected costs would be in 2010 to build such a project, using a five percent per year inflation figure.
Two other reservoir options were also explored when the study was conducted. Other than the large narrows reservoir they also looked at the idea of a smaller narrows reservoir (8,000 acre feet) which would cost $36 million.
In addition the consultants also looked at building a reservoir called the Oak Creek Reservoir on the western slope of the Wasatch Plateau above the Sanpete Valley and diverting water into it. But the costs on that would even be higher than on the large narrows reservoir, coming in at over $71 million. That cost would be higher largely because of the terrain it would need to be constructed in, possible geologic problems and the extension of pipelines and tunnels to get the water there. That proposed reservoir would hold about 10,000 acre feet.
Per acre feet costs were also assessed. For the large narrows reservoir each acre foot would cost $3400. A smaller reservoir in basically the same place would cost $4500 per acre foot. Finally the Oak Creek Reservoir costs would bloat up to $5550 per acre foot.
An acre foot is the equivalent of one foot of water laying over an acre of land.
As with all projects, some things can be moved around with some details removed and others added. In the case of the Oak Creek Reservoir, if a new diversion was to be built to the reservoir, according to the study the costs would balloon up to almost $87 million.
The report also noted the actions that Sanpete has taken to conserve water over the years, but many critics say what has been done isn't enough. Many of the opposition groups insist that the county could save a lot of water "up top" by improving and lining the canals and ditches in the transbasin diversions that presently exist. The report says, however, that conservation would not be enough to provide enough new water to meet the needs of Sanpete (which the report states is an estimated 15,250 acre feet).
In the final analysis the report says that some type of storage facility is needed to go along with present and future conservation efforts and new water development. That reports suggests that a smaller Gooseberry Narrows reservoir (8,000 acre feet) would be much less costly and would also keep State Road 254 from having to be relocated. It also says, however that in dry years a smaller reservoir may not be able to provide the 5400 acre feet of water that Sanpete has rights too.
It also did not address how a smaller Gooseberry Narrows reservoir would impact Scofield Reservoir, evaporation loss or the ultimate water flows that Carbon County uses to survive on.
Today's story is the second in a two part series about the Gooseberry Narrows Project.