Due to the well depletion at several locations across the state, the water engineer's office announced last week that Utah may have to re-evaluate the rights granted on aquifers since World War II.
The re-evaluation of the rights could be a major blow to individuals, families and corporations that have set up homes, farms and businesses dependent on the wells for water.
The action could hit the Cedar City-Enterprise area hard, where aquifers are so low that wells starting out as 100 foot deep draws must be deepened to 220 feet to access water.
But over-allocation of the rights to ground water at several locations in the state may not be the only problem Utah is facing. Some surface rights to water may have been over-allocated as well.
The situation is true for a number of areas in Utah, including one location of interest to Carbon County residents - the Scofield-Gooseberry drainage.
That point could be a major factor in the latest drive to approve and build Gooseberry dam.Construction could start as early as May 2005 if everything goes as the proponents of the Gooseberry-Narrows project want it to.
According to a time line on the development of the project, the environmental impact statement on the Gooseberry-Narrows was supposed to be released in October, with a 60-day comment period following the disclosure.
However, according to the United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the statement will probably not be released until a later date.
"It appears that document will not come out for public comment until sometime in November," indicated Beverly Heff-ernan of the federal agency's Provo office.
The EIS is an attempt to bring a project to life that has been in the minds of many federal and Sanpete officials for more than 70 years.
But many of the original questions regarding the Gooseberry- Narrows project, the costs, the dam's viability and legal ramifications remain unanswered despite the efforts to obtain approval for the construction of the reservoir.
Carbon water interests and government officials have been working to obtain information on the project and gain support against the Gooseberry dam's construction.
Two weeks ago, Carbon Commissioners Mike Milovich and Bill Krompel met with U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch and discussed Sanpete's proposed project for more than an hour.
"We laid things on the line to him about our problems with this project," noted Milovich. "He heard what we had to say."
Opposition to the Gooseberry dam centers around a number of factors.
But two of the primary concerns involve the over-allocation of the water as well as the measurement of the natural resource that Sanpete currently receives from the drainage system. The system lies in the eastern portion of Sanpete, but naturally drains through Carbon County.
"What we need is a system to truly measure the amount of water that Sanpete is currently taking out of the drainage," pointed out Krompel. "We can't know if they are getting more or less than is allocated to them without that type of system."
According to Krompel, Sanpete has 69 miles of ditches and tunnels on the east side of the Wasatch Plateau. The problem lies in the fact that no one knows exactly how much water is flowing through the waterways into Sanpete County.
Sanpete's right to water from the drainage comes from an ongoing commitment by the state to make sure that the doctrine of "first in time, first in right" is maintained.
Private Sanpete concerns developed Fairview Lake by building a small dam in 1869.
Sanpete's total right to water from the drainage equals approximately 5,400 acre feet per year. But numerous Carbon County sources claim that Sanpete is currently diverting between 8,000 and 40,000 acre feet per year.
In addition, Carbon County sources feel over-allocating water is a problem already and constructing a dam on the drainage that will store up to 17,000 acre feet would complicate the situation more.
Over-allocation of water rights has surfaced as a problem in many places at locations across Utah.
In fact, some U. S. Forest Service officials maintain that various rivers and streams in the state have been allocated by a factor of two or three times in relation to the actual water that flows down the channels.
Some of the drainage in question emanates from Emery County.
Carbon and Emery officials believe that an automatic gauging system needs to be installed to measure the exact amount of water currently being diverted by Sanpete County before any type of project is considered.
The automatic gauging system would use a series of stations powered by solar panels and connected via wireless technology to a computer system so officials can monitor accumulative flows through water ways.
In Emery County, a similar measurement system has been linked to an Internet website to allow the public to see how the local waterways are flowing.
But water, the use of the natural resource, ownership of the rights and which drainage it should flow down are not the only items that many individuals who are involved in the ongoing debate regarding Gooseberry are concerned about.
"There have been a lot of meetings on this newest edition of the project and we haven't been invited to any of them," said Milovich.
The Utah Rivers Council which was formed to seek "protection for Utah's remaining free-flowing rivers and the ecosystems they support through grassroots advocacy, education, lobbying and litigation."
The statewide rivers council also opposes the construction of the Gooseberry dam. The members have been concerned about the meeting schedule set up by the BLM on the development of the project as well.
"They have had 12 meetings without any kind of notice to anyone except those that were invited," pointed out David Brown, a staffer for the council who has been assigned to work on the project.
But Heffernan maintained that the prior sessions set up by the reclamation bureau were interagency meetings with various groups that would be involved in the Gooseberry-Narrows project in one way or another.
The list of participants invited to attend the BOR meetings included representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as well as officials from several additional state and federal agencies.
Also attending several of the meetings were officials from Sanpete County along with representatives from U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon's office and Sen. Hatch's office.
With the federal agency's release of the environmental impact statement on the Sanpete's Gooseberry-Narrows project, the reclamation bureau will conduct public comment meetings to gather input on the document.
But Carbon County residents do not have to wait until then to voice opinions because the federal agency will host preliminary meetings on the project next week in Price and Manti.
The first meeting will be on Sept. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Carbon County Courthouse. Reportedly, the session is viewed as an initial scoping meeting for the project by the BOR.
Scoping meetings are conducted by governmental entities to identify issues and needs as well as to develop alternatives to a proposed project
However, a letter from reclamation bureau area manager Bruce Barrett sent to Carbon County last week stated that the "meetings are for informational purposes only ...comments will not be taken ..."
Nevertheless, Carbon County officials are encouraging local residents to plan to turn out for the Sept. 22 meeting in Price.
A large crowd of residents in attendance at the meeting will show community interest regarding the matter and demonstrate the county is ready to oppose any decisions that may impact the area negatively.
"This is an important meeting that all Carbon residents should be aware of," emphasized Milovich. "We'd like to see a lot of people attend and participate in it."