MANTI—The Sanpete County Commission and officials of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) talked in fairly definite terms last week about an alternative to the Narrows dam and reservoir.
And the officials made clear at a county commission meeting July 19 that the Gunnison Irrigation Co. and Gunnison Reservoir would play a big part in the alternative plan.
“If we can get that done, it’s going to be a phenomenal deal for Gunnison and for us (in North Sanpete),” Commissioner Ed Sunderland said.
But Commissioner Reed Hatch expressed skepticism. “The problem is we’re getting close to a million bucks a year we’re putting into it,” he said, referring to taxes Sanpete County property owners pay to the CUWCD, which has long pledged to help the Sanpete Water Conservancy District (SWCD) build the Narrows Project.
“If we can’t show some progress for the money, we’re better off out” of the water district, Hatch said.
At issue is water that now flows from Sanpete County near the Sanpete-Carbon county border into Carbon County. Courts have said the water rightfully belongs to Sanpete County.
The goal of the Narrows alternative plan would be to bring 5,400 acre feet of water from the eastern slope of the Wasatch Plateau into Sanpete County, something the SWCD and other water interests have been trying to do for generations.
Under the alternative, as discussed at the commission meeting, construction of the Narrows dam and reservoir would be abandoned.
Instead of being channeled into a reservoir, the water would be pulled out of creeks on the eastern slope and channeled through pipes across various parcels of private property in Fairview Canyon area.
From there it would flow through a transmountain tunnel in Fairview. The tunnel has been in place for decades, ready to receive water that originally was to be stored in the Narrows Reservoir. About 10 years ago, the tunnel was repaired and upgraded.
Once through the tunnel, the water would be channeled into the Sanpitch River. Down the road, diversion dams and storage ponds could be created to direct the water out of the Sanpitch, store it, and deliver it to customers in the North Sanpete area, which has long suffered from lack of water storage.
But initially, all of the water would flow down the Sanpitch into the Gunnison Reservoir. “We’re going to…measure how much we get, so we can prove that we put that much water in the Gunnison (Reservoir),” Sunderland said.
Once the SWCD establishes its right to the water and documents beneficial use, the water can start being used up and down the Sanpete Valley, he said.
The first step, commissioners and CUWCD officials agreed, was getting an agreement signed between the SWCD, the long-time sponsor of the Narrows Project, and the Gunnison Irrigation Co.. The agreement would permit the water to be stored in the Gunnison Reservoir.
“I talked with Allen Dyreng. He’s the president of the (Gunnison) Irrigation Co.,” said Commission Chairman Scott Bartholomew. I told him, ‘I need the agreement.’”
Bartholomew said Dyreng texted or was going to email a document to him but he hadn’t seen the document yet. But Bartholomew said it appears the agreement is complete “or very near completion.”
Bartholomew asked the CUWCD officials if a pledge of $5 million to help pay for the alternative plan was still on the table.
“It certainly is,” K.C. Shaw, deputy general manager of the CUWCD said.
Bartholomew asked how long it would take “to actually bring water…through the canyon, get the measuring devices (in) and so forth.”
“We assume the (Sanpete) Water Conservancy District would be the sponsor of that,” Shaw said. “They would contract with an engineering firm to do the design. During that time, we would step in with the funding and assist with both the design and the construction.
“My guess is that by thetime you finish your study and do your public hearings… you’re at least 18 months out…and then you might be able to do it in one construction season. It may take you two construction seasons.”
“So you’re talking a two, three-year timeframe…,” Bartholomew said.
But Sunderland said things could move faster than that. He said the SWCD only needs approval from one more private property owner before it has a clear path to get water from streams into the Fairview tunnel.
“I think water’s going to get here in two years, anyway,” he said.
At one point, Bartholomew said “if we don’t get the dam,” Sanpete County would move to the alternative plan.
“You’re trying to make it sound like it (the dam) might happen. It’s not going to happen,” Commissioner Hatch said.
“I’m not locking the door,” Sunderland said. “That door closed a long way down the road,” Hatch said.