New alternatives advance for Narrows
By James Tilson
MANTI — Richard Noble and Greg Soter addressed the Sanpete Water Conservancy District last week, presenting alternative solutions to the vexing Narrows Project problem.
Stating “something’s better than nothing,” Noble, who has been the engineer for the district for 26 years and in charge of the Narrows Project since the district first applied for Bureau of Reclamation funding in 1990, showed how the district would be able tap into two-thirds of the water that a dam would provide, but without filing another Environmental Impact Study (EIS) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or applying for a 404 Permit with the Army Corp of Engineers.
Calling the plan, “Direct Diversion of Gooseberry Creek,” Noble set out the details. The district would acquire rights to private land (not federal) on the creek, and build two diversion structures. The structures would collect the water into a tunnel, letting gravity take the water into Cottonwood Creek and down into the Sanpete Valley. From there the district could put the water into a reservoir, let the water seep into the groundwater, or divert it through pipelines to different parts of the county.
Noble explained that opposition from the EPA had made an alternative to the dam/reservoir project necessary. In May 2016, the district received a letter from the Army Corp of Engineers that stated that the district’s initial application for a 404 Permit could not be granted. “Based on the comments received” during the public comment period, the EPA determined that the EIS was not adequate under federal regulations, and a “supplemental EIS” would be required. Noble called this a “complete re-do” and saidit was “very discouraging” for the district.
After coming up with this alternative, Noble floated the idea to the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers. According to Noble, the representative from the EPA called the plan ”a work of art” and the Army Corp of Engineers was “giddy” with the possibility. They both saw this as a way to take a controversial issue off of their hands, since the diversions structures and tunnel would all be on private land and not impact federal lands. Noble reminded the district that state officials, who would have the final approval over this plan, had been consistently in favor of the Narrows Project over the years, and Noble did not anticipate any opposition from them.
Greg Soter, public relations chairperson for the Narrows Project, asked the district to not give up on the Narrows Project yet. He said when he first heard that the district was considering an alternative to the dam/reservoir, he said to himself, “What, give up on the Narrows? My heart was broken.”
He reiterated his understanding of the district’s frustration with how government bureaucracy has tied up this project for years. But he pointed out that the change in Administrations in Washington, D.C., may present an opportunity for the district. Only two weeks ago, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he was nominating Scott Prewitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General and a staunch critic of the EPA, to head that same agency. Soter asked the District to give him a chance to meet with Prewitt face-to-face, and see if there could be a change in attitude from the EPA. “[It is} worth a shot … [to see] if the Narrows Project can be the poster child of what Prewitt wants to accomplish with the EPA”.
After the presentations, the District voted unanimously to pursue both options, with Noble to continue investigating the feasibility of the alternative plan and Soter to seek a meeting with Prewitt.