In what might be called a setback for both sides in the age-old water war between Carbon and Sanpete Counties, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday approved construction of the Gooseberry Narrows Dam but said the agency won't even consider funding it.
The BOR issued those findings in its record of decision on the controversial project's Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The agency stated that it had reviewed all the environmental, economic, technical and social impacts and found the the dam and reservoir would qualify under federal environmental rules.
However, BOR declared, "Reclamation did not and will not evaluate the loan application appended to the FEIS."
The reason for this is that the bureau has not adminstered projects funded by the Small Reclamation Projects Acts for 25 years and is not seeking additional funding. Furthemore, "The prospect of future SRPA funding through Congressional write-in is unlikely."
It approving the environmental aspects of the application, however, the BOR decision affirms that the Sanpete Water Conservancy District has permission to exercise its right to divert up to 5,400 acre-feet of year per year from Carbon County into northern Sanpete.
The Army Corps of Engineers will determine the size of the reservoir, but it could be as much as 17,000 acre-feet.
From the reservoir, water will flow via a system of pipes and canals to farmland in Sanpete County. The project will not increase the acreage of land under cultivation, but it will enable a third crop of alfalfa. That is expected to raise farm income in the irrigated area by about 11 percent.
Carbon County water users, including irrigators, industries, county government and municipalities on the west side of the county have opposed the Narrows project for a century.
Taking that much water away from Scofield Reservoir each year - on average, about 6.6 percent of the inflow - could make it more probable that Carbon's principal water source could occasionally shrink to "dead storage," the BOR noted. However, the bureau also explained that Scofield was designed with extra storage to accommodate even greater diversions than the Narrows proposes.
The Sanpete Water Conservancy District has 15 years to come up with the funding, either from public or private sources or both, and award a construction contract. Otherwise, the license will be terminated.
Mike Milovich, board member of the Carbon County Water Conservancy District, said the district's lawyers [Parson, Behle & Latimer of Salt Lake City] will be reviewing the bureau's Record of Decision and other options to see what the next step in the opposition will be.
Milovich also noted that the BOR's decision not to fund the project makes moot several objections to the Environmental Impact Statement, which had focused on the districts eligibility for Small Reclamation Projected Act funding.