Power of persistence will win in the end on Narrows Project
“Nothing is more powerful than persistence.”
And no group of people is a better example of that statement by Calvin Coolidge than citizens of Sanpete County, as represented by the Sanpete Water Conservancy District (SWDC).
In order to get the Narrows dam and reservoir constructed, Sanpete leaders have been meeting with officials, writing letters, conducting studies, signing agreements, defending a lawsuit, and paying taxes to pay for all those things, since 1933.
So when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, in response to a 520-page application for the final, final permit required to build the critical project, told us we need, in essence, to rewind and replay the Narrows tape, maybe we should have asked, “So what else is new?”
In civil society, when a business or government organization approves a project, or law or proposition, or says it will approve it, that means it’s a approved or will be approved. There might be a wrinkle or two between approval and implementation, but the approval still stands.
In 1966, the Army Corp released a report, with comments from other federal agencies, favoring the Narrows.
In 1995, after completing an environmental impact statement (EIS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the lead federal agency for water projects, issued a “record of decision” approving the project.
That’s when Carbon County interests went to court to stop the project. They claimed the EIS was deficient.
So in 1998 the BOR kicked out a new EIS. That same year, the Army Corp asked the SWDC some questions that the Corp apparently felt were had not be answered in the two EISs. The Sanpete people send a response, and the Army Corp replied with a letter saying the information provided “appears to be adequate.”
That’s where the train stopped.
Mind you, the BOR had approved the project. A rational person would assume that the approval still stood, or if approval was contingent on correcting the alleged deficiencies in the EIS, and the BOR had done that, the BOR would issue another record of decision.
Furthermore, one would assume that if the Army Corp had, in essence, given a high-five to the Narrows, as soon as the revised EIS was out, or, if needed, as soon as the BOR issued another record of decision, the Corp would have signed off on the project.
None of that happened, and in 2005, the ever-persistent leaders of the county and the SWCD stood on the shore of the potential 600-acre Narrows Reservoir and asked, “What is going on?”
Since then, the BOR has produced a third EIS (more than 200 pages) and issued a second record of decision.
Now the Army Corp is claiming Sanpete County has never made the case that the project is needed. Well, we’ve been making that case that water storage is needed for agriculture, industry and culinary use since 1933. Time and again, federal and state agencies have agreed that the need exists. But yes, we’ll explain it all again for the Corp.
The Army Corp claims Sanpete County hasn’t presented sufficient alternatives to building the Narrows. Again, about nine years ago, Sanpete and Carbon County interests cooperated in funding an independent, unbiased study of alternatives to the Narrows.
CH2MHill, a nationally known engineering firm, looked at 15 alternatives. It issued a 70-page study, which concluded that the Narrows project, as proposed, was the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to deliver 5,400 acre feet of water per year to Sanpete County. (Our rights to that water have been acknowledged again and again in signed agreements and by the courts.) Yes, we will get the ideas and information from the CH2MHill study to the Corp.
Finally, the Army Corp says the SWDC needs to do a supplemental EIS. That’ll be the fourth EIS on the project, not counting the 520-pages recently submitted to the Corp. But we’ll do it.
The branch director for the Army Corp of Engineers and a lead scientist in the Denver regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Sanpete leaders in late July they are not trying to kill the Narrows and that they aren’t, per se, against new dams being built. We’ll take them at their word.
In the face of difficulty, Coolidge said, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” In that vein, Sanpete County will persist until the Narrows is finally, finally, approved and built.