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Completion of dam in 1946 did not end the Gooseberry controversy

Staff reporter

The funding had been approved by the federal government, the courts had ruled that the Carbon Water Conservancy District could tax citizens of the area to repay the $213,000 they would owe in loans, and the public had given it's overwhelming support in a February 1944 election saying the Scofield Dam should be built. It seemed all the hurdles had been overcome and the dam would be well on its way to completion by the end of the summer.

But that wasn't the way it was to be.

Beginning May 1, the work on the structure itself was proceeding well. The contractor, W.W. Clyde of Springville had jumped on the project and was moving along at good speed. But there was one major problem; the company had less than half the workers they needed to get the job done.

A hot war time economy and large numbers of men in the military drew away many of those that would normally have run the heavy equipment and done the solid hand labor needed to complete the dam. It's hard to imagine in today's economy, but there was a labor shortage.

When the high schools in the county released students for the summer, the county and the contractor recruited many of them to work on the project. With that added youthful help the dam construction began to progress much faster. In fact, even though work was far behind June 1, on July 18, just three days past when it was originally planned to be finished, the work crews had completed the outlet works, a horseshoe section five feet in diameter that would eventually carry 210 cubic feet of water per second and was designed to allow the water to flow around where the dam was actually being constructed. At that point the cut off trench, where the dam would be located was being pumped out so work could proceed on the base of the dam.

During the rest of the summer and into the early fall the dam site was excavated down to 63 feet below the old water level in the river. This was done because the old Scofield Dam upstream had almost failed with one of the reasons being that it was not attached to the bedrock below the water line.

Over 4,000 bags of cement were used to bore holes to anchor the dam to the bedrock. But within only a few short years, while the water users in Sanpete County stewed over the BOR decision and Carbonites passed any notion of sharing more water from the drainage with them, the concept of the Gooseberry Narrows project would be resurrected in the halls of Congress through the auspices of the Central Utah Project.

At the time it was hoped that the actual earth fill and concrete structure could be mostly finished by the fall, but as soon as school opened the construction company lost most of its school boy help, slowing things down immensely. It turned bitter cold in November and work had to be halted.

Work resumed in late April of 1945 and continued through the fall. Workers to labor on the project were still in short supply, even though the war was winding down with the fall of Germany in the spring and finally the surrender of the Japanese Empire in September. Work stopped once again in late October as early snows and cold came, but by that time the dam was almost completely finished with only clean up work and fine tuning needing to be done.

In the spring of 1946, with veterans returning and the country still on many kinds of rationing due more to domestic shortages than to the recent war, finish up construction began on the site. The highway over the dam was completed and the railroad tracks moved to where they are today. In addition some items like pipe railing, channel excavating and outlet work detail were being finished. The complete job was done by June 15.

In early July a certificate of appropriation was issued from the state water engineer's office. This certificate covered the water that would be stored in the reservoir each year, and it was based on an original filing from the late 1800s. At the time the state engineer released a statement that the filing was the longest held certificate in the state.

While it took many years to complete the dam, it was finished just in time, because the winters of 1946-48 were extremely heavy with moisture and snow. Most who lived during those winters in almost all parts of the state can still remember the deep snows and, more importantly, the high runoffs. Without the new dam in place, the old dam could very well have failed completely, wiping out not only the storage capacity, but creating floods downstream.

In the end the Scofield dam cost $900,000 to build, the cost increasing immensely as it neared completion because of shortages of materials and higher labor costs incurred by lack of laborers. The structure itself has over 170,000 cubic yards of fill and 40,000 cubic yards of rock. It is 575 feet long and it rises 150 feet above the bedrock it is anchored to.

In the fall of 1946 the CWCD assessed the first tax to pay for their portion of the cost of the dam. That assessment was one quarter of a mill to begin paying the loan off in 1947 at the rate of $5400 per year for 40 years. It was at that time that the Gooseberry Narrows project was being thought of once again, despite the fact that Sanpete County had pulled out during the war It was expected that Sanpete would enter back into the agreement, paying a $116,000 to get back into the joint project with Gooseberry. Construction on the new narrows project was expected to start sometime in 1947.

But in November of 1947 the Bureau of Reclamation decided to abandon the project because they felt it was "economically unfeasible." The director of the BOR, Kenneth Markwell stated that since Sanpete residents would only be paying a small portion of the cost of the project, building it was not recommended. At the time it was felt they could pay back only about $660,000, only one fifth of the cost of the new dam. Since there would be no power development on the project, there would be no other repayment available.

The decision by the BOR was gladly accepted by Carbon County which was wondering what could happen in drought years. It did mean that Carbon would have to pay back the entire amount on the loan, but the county would also gain the water from the drainage that would be lost to a reservoir farther upstream.

But within only a few short years, while the water users in Sanpete County stewed of the BOR decision and Carbonites passed any notion of sharing more water from the drainage with them, the concept of the Gooseberry Narrows project would be resurrected in the halls of Congress through the auspices of the Central Utah Project.

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