years later, Carbon and Sanpete still fighting over
dam on Gooseberry Creek
By Jon Cox
December 19, 2005 | FAIRVIEW -- In
1933, the Bureau of Reclamation outlined its plans to
construct a dam and reservoir on Gooseberry Creek to
provide Sanpete County farmers adequate water. Now,
70 years and countless broken promises later, the dam
Neighboring Carbon County received their dam as promised
and its estimated 43,000 acre-feet of water (an acre-foot
is roughly the amount of water used annually by a family
of four) stored in nearby Scofield Reservoir. Now though,
Carbon County residents have protested the building
of Sanpete's dam at every turn.
"This case flows from yet another skirmish in the
never-ending war over water in the American West," reads
a recent U.S. 10th District Court decision between the
two disputing parties, Sanpete and Carbon counties.
"Carbon County is very strongly opposed to this project.
They believe that it will take away from their water,"
Greg Soter, a public relations representative for Sanpete
The Narrows Project would dam nearby Gooseberry Creek,
which originates in Sanpete County before flowing toward
Carbon County and into Fish Creek and eventually Scofield
Reservoir. Carbon residents rely heavily upon Scofield
Reservoir each year for their water.
"Scofield is our only source of water in the whole
area," Michael Milovich, Carbon County Commisioner said.
"If they continue to push the dam, we will continue
to oppose it."
Currently though, more water flows into Scofield than
the reservoir can hold, with an estimated 9,000 acre-feet
of water per year spilling over into the Colorado River
and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
The proposed Narrows Project would include a 17,000
acre-feet reservoir, 5,400 of which would be available
to Sanpete County farmers each year. As part of the
agreement, Scofield Reservoir would be enlarged to make
up for the reduction in water flowing to it from Gooseberry
Creek. The reservoir has been enlarged before, also
in response to the projected dam on Gooseberry Creek.
Bureau of Reclamation
officials revised the original 1933 plan, now known
as the Narrows Project in response to objections by
Carbon County residents. To mediate the dispute, they
agreed to enlarge the existing Scofield Reservoir providing
more water for Carbon County.
They planned to first build the Narrows Project and
then pursue the Scofield addition. But in 1943, the
plan hit a snag. Government officials viewed the Scofield
Dam as unstable. If it burst, it could potentially flood
a nearby railroad line used to ship goods for World
War II. With such a concern, the parties agreed that
the Scofield Dam should be repaired and enlarged first,
followed by the Narrows Project.
"Everybody, including Sanpete, said we can't interrupt
the war effort," Soter said. But with the Scofield renovation
finished, the Narrows Project would never be built.
"Carbon County got their water," Soter said. "But
Sanpete never got what they deserved." Protesting Carbon
County residents continued to stall the building of
As part of the 1943 agreement, both parties had acknowledged
the water from Gooseberry Creek belonged to Sanpete
County. Yet, decades later, the water continues to flow
into Fish Creek and eventually into Scofield Reservoir,
controlled by Carbon County.
Throughout the years, various governmental entities
have recommended the construction of the Narrows Dam.
In 1956, Congress passed the Colorado River Storage
Project Act naming the Narrows Project as one of the
undertakings to be completed. In 1962, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture presented a document titled the North
Sanpete Watershed Plan. The plan included the Narrows
Project. That same year, the U.S. Forest Service issued
a permit for the construction of the project. Sanpete
County even built a 3,100-foot transmountain tunnel
to transport the water to the valley.
In 1964, Congress again recommended the completion
of the project, including the dam and reservoir. In
1966, the Army Corps of Engineers released a report, with
several federal agencies supporting the project.
Yet nothing was built.
In 1984, the two sides entered into a Compromise Agreement
wherein Carbon County acknowledged Sanpete's right to
build the dam on the condition that they would limit
their water usage to 5,400 acre feet per year, an amount
considerably less than the original plans.
Even with the compromise, Carbon County continued
to fight the proposal. "That agreement was shoved down
our throats," Milovich said.
In 1995, the Bureau of Reclamation approved the Narrows
Project. In response, Carbon County filed a suit based
on technical issues within the environmental impact
study. To avoid a court battle, the BOR issued a new
environmental impact statement three years later.
But as the project was about to be built, the U.S.
Forest Service attempted to designate Fish Creek as
a wild-and-scenic destination in 2003. As Gooseberry
Creek is a tributary of Fish Creek, officials immediately
froze the Narrows Project.
The project once again faced a stalemate until 117
people wrote letters to the Forest Service opposing
the designation. Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service
repealed the proposal. Sanpete County citizens hope
to build their dam starting with a new grassroots campaign.
A recent push by the Sanpete Water Conservancy District
and County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett has rekindled
support for the Narrows Project. The project titled,
"Dam It!" invited residents to write letters to officials
at both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps
The two agencies work closely together on such a project.
"It's kind of like the left hand and the right hand,"
Jarrett said. Both entities must sign off on the project
before it can be built. "Their offices have been inundated
with letters," Jarrett said.
All letters received by the Sanpete Messenger, a local
newspaper, have been published online. The website includes
a petition of local residents which says, "We DEMAND
that the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers
end a 70-year trail of breached contracts and broken
promises and approve the Narrows Dam and Reservoir on
Gooseberry Creek in Sanpete County." Various community
residents have signed the petition.
Many residents have also written to Utah Congressmen
in Washington D.C. and the state's governor encouraging
According to Soter, Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, openly
supports the program while Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah,
opposes it. Cannon represents Sanpete County and Matheson
represents Carbon County. Utah Senators Bob Bennett
and Orrin Hatch along with state officials appear sympathetic
to the Narrows Project as well, Soter said, though they
remain less vocal.
"They have got to be a little more cautious," Soter
said. "It's like they have got to choose between one
of their children."
Carbon residents contest the dam will cost the state
more than it thinks.
"When you build a dam, you just don't know how much
it will cost," Milovich said. The loan will be financed
by the state and paid back by Sanpete residents. He
estimates the dam will cost $30 million at the very
least. Milovich believes the money it will cost is not
worth the water they will receive. "There is no economic
benefit to this dam."
Fish enthusiasts oppose the program as well. The dam
could threaten several species of cutthroat trout, including
one that Milovich said is endangered. He lso warns that
the project could pollute Fish Creek and Scofield Reservoir,
popular fishing destinations.
Carbon residents believe Sanpete farmers could easily
have enough water if they would conserve better. "They
could double or triple the amount of water this dam
would create for them at half the cost," Milovich said.
With such concerns, both sides anxiously await the
release of a new the works for 15 years. The report
is expected to be published soon. But even then, the
fighting is expected to continue. One recent court battle
cost Carbon County more than $500,000, Milovich estimates.
"As long as they are hell-bent on pushing that dam,
no matter what, we're going to fight it," Milovich said.