DUCHESNE COUNTY — Big snow, cool weather and spring runoff have converged to send a curtain of water cascading over a dam taller than Niagara Falls at a High Uintas reservoir.
Upper Stillwater Reservoir is at 100 percent capacity and water is flowing over the 200-foot tall spillway, which measures about 600 feet across. Niagara Falls has a 160-foot vertical drop.
"It’s a pretty impressive sight to see," said Gene Shawcroft, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
Hundreds of people traveled over the weekend to see the falling water, which is about an hour’s drive northwest of Duchesne in Rock Creek Canyon. It takes about two days for water to fill the Upper Stillwater spillway, and Shawcroft said it could last another 10 days depending on how fast the snow melts.
The dam spillway was engineered to control the elevation of the reservoir as the water level rises. Although it does not happen every year, overflowing water is a normal part of operations. The Upper Stillwater last spilled over in 2017.
The reservoir was created in 1987 as part of the Central Utah Project, which captures a large portion of Utah’s share of Colorado River water from the Uinta Basin and moves it through several reservoirs to eight counties along the Wasatch Front and central Utah.
Shawcroft said the system is designed to store and provide water in dry years and prevent flooding in wet years.
"From our perspective, the project is doing exactly what it was designed and intended to do," he said.
All watersheds across the state have received higher than average precipitation since last October and several Utah reservoirs are at capacity and spilling. Reservoirs managed by the district are averaging 96 percent capacity.