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Congressional fight on CUP set future Gooseberry disputes in motion

Scofield Reservoir is the main water source for irrigation and culinary use in much of Carbon County. Fish Creek flows down the canyon west and north of West Scofield from the Gooseberry drainage.

Sun Advocate publisher

In February 1955, it appeared Gooseberry dam would be built in short order.

Considering all the setbacks, pullouts and proclamations from various government entities, it would seem the idea would have faded away.

But for almost 40 years, Sanpete County lobbied to replace the Mammoth Dam that had collapsed shortly after America entered World War 1. When the structure was finally built, Sanpete interests intended the water to be diverted into their valleys rather than be controlled by residents in Carbon County.

Following the completion of the Scofield Dam, bills were introduced in the United States Congress to form the Central Utah Project.

Having been set back for political reasons in the beginning and then by the national focus on the Korean War in the early 1950s, the idea of a master water project in Utah was ripe for the picking.

America's expansion mode played into the hands of developing a system designed to provide large amounts of water to the Wasatch Front. It was to be done through tran-basin diversions from the Colorado River drainage, creating the Bonneville Unit of the CUP project.

However, CUP included additional units, many of which have been completed. Others have yet to be finished almost 50 years after the bill's original passage.

The CUP project has set several firsts, including some that could be considered negative depending on the point of view.

One so-called failure from a Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) and CUP supporters' vantage point was the inability of the project managers to overcome local and national opposition to building the Echo Park and Split Mountain dams in northwestern Colorado.

The Echo Park and Split Mountain projects were primarily defeated by the Sierra Club, led by David Brower.

At the time, the group was not a wealthy money collecting "envirobusiness," but a grass-roots organization with active members.

"Success springs from deeds, not dollars," said Brower. At the time his was a philosophy of activism more than litigation. Brower's alliance with Bernard DeVoto, a well known historian and author of Across the Wide Missouri, brought the American public into the opposition mix by using the fact that the two dams would have been located in Dinosaur National Park.

The projects were halted, despite the death of DeVoto in the middle of the debate. It was the first time the environmental movement had kept major dams from being built by an arm of the U.S. government.

A second failure occurred in Utah, where a part of the Bonneville unit - the Gooseberry project - has never been completed. But while the Echo Park and Split Mountain dams were killed in the 1950s, Gooseberry has never died.

Gooseberry's first defeat after the initial appropriation was not due to environmental intervention, but to resistance from a group of businessmen, politicians and agricultural interests from a county on the east side of the Wasatch Plateau.

On Feb. 10, 1955,officials from Utah, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and concerned citizens from Carbon County met at Price Civic Auditorium. At the meeting, it was determined Carbon County would pull out all political stops to halt the project that if the powers in Congress continued to insist that the Gooseberry project be included in the CUP appropriations bill. The moves included sending a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on the issue. And so the mid-fifties battle began and set the stage for further water wars down the line.

Editors note: This is the eighth installment in a series of articles about the history of the Gooseberry Project controversy.

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