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A Sanpete County water project long talked about but oft delayed inched closer to reality this week, but opponents of the Narrows Project dam vow to still fight it.
The Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Narrows Project on Gooseberry Creek east of Fairview, concluding its preferred alternative is a dam 120 feet tall storing 17,000 acre-feet of water with a reservoir surface 604 acres in size.
The project would include rehabilitating an existing water tunnel to carry water through a mountain ridge to Cottonwood Creek and down to the Sanpete Valley.
The tunnel is required because although Gooseberry Creek is in Sanpete County, it naturally flows east and eventually dumps into Scofield Reservoir in Carbon County, then runs down the Price River and ends up in the Colorado River.
The project is a sore point between the two counties.
"We are reviewing the statement to see how they are addressing questions we had about the project," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich. "The bottom line is that as long as the project is planned for that location it is affecting our watershed, and we will do whatever is necessary to keep it from happening. In our view the whole project is fraught with error and problems, and we intend to address every single one of them even if it means we have to go to court to do so."
Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett called the Narrows Project "incredibly important" and said she is excited to have it closer to possible fruition with release of the final EIS.
"This is the best chance yet," she said of the project that was first discussed nearly 90 years ago. "The EIS is solid and will stand up to any lawsuits that might be filed. The bureau put a lot of effort into making sure it was solid."
Jarrett said if a favorable record of decision on the statement is reached after the early December comment period, some things still need to be finalized, but Sanpete County would get going on the Narrows Project as soon as possible.
"In all reality, the water conservancy district in Sanpete County has done everything to appease the people in Carbon County," she said. "Now it is time to have that beneficial use of water that is our right."
Milovich says Carbon County commissioners have always recognized Sanpete County's right to Gooseberry Creek water and have provided several alternatives to the proposed dam.
"They have the ability to develop water within their own valley," he said. "We have offered to buy that water from Gooseberry Creek and they can use the money to develop that water. We have suggested alternative sites for the dam, but nothing has been given any real consideration."
The project, estimated to cost $34 million in 2010, according to The Narrows Dam and Reservoir website (http://www.narrowsproject.com) produced by the Sanpete Water Conservancy District, could be funded by a loan through the Bureau of Reclamation's Small Reclamation Projects Act. Loans would be repaid, according to the website, out of proceeds from water sales.
Carbon County officials say that number is grossly under real projected costs and was done so for a simple reason.
"The bureau's loan program won't look at anything over $50 million," Milovich said.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council, says the Narrows Project is not about providing water to thirsty citizens or even crops but a means to financially benefit a small number of people at a high cost.
"This is a stimulus project for Sanpete County," he said. "Sanpete can get more water for less money simply by lining dirt ditches with concrete. Our concern is, is this about water or is this about spending taxpayer money to employ people out of Mount Pleasant?"
According to the final EIS, discussions on the Narrows Project began in 1924 when Sanpete County officials applied for 15,000 acre-feet of Gooseberry Creek water with the intention of delivering it to the other side of the mountain.
Several related proposals that have come and gone through the years have been complicated by complaints and lawsuits over the project.