Water Fight Over Dam Heats Up

Water Fight Over Dam Heats Up

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John Hollenhorst ReportingAn old fight between two counties has roared back to life. It's all about water and a big new proposed dam.

Sanpete County says the need for the dam is critical. The other side says it will hurt Carbon County and devastate a blue ribbon trout fishery.

This is the story of Gooseberry Creek. It starts in one county, and flows into another. Sanpete County wants more of that liquid gold to stay home.

Claudia Jarrett/Sanpete County Commissioner: "This is our water. We truly, definitely need it. It's critical to our farming and ranching operations here."

Sanpete wants to build a dam a hundred and twenty feet high in the Gooseberry Narrows. Water would be diverted through an existing tunnel to the farms and towns of Sanpete Valley. A lot less would flow into Carbon County creating painful loss, some say.

Mike Bertelsen/Utah Rivers Council: "Oh absolutely. There'd be substantial pain."

Environmentalists and trout fishermen have joined forces with Carbon County to fight the dam.

Alan Matheson/Trout Unlimited: "We're looking at some of the best trout water in the state."

They say reduced flows would severely degrade a blue ribbon trout fishery in Fish Creek and Scofield Reservoir.

Mike Bertelsen/Utah Rivers Council: "The real likelihood is that Scofield as a fishery will die because there won't be any oxygen in the water in the fall."

Claudia Jarrett/Sanpete County Commissioner: "Well, it's our water. Hah. Hah. It has always been our water. That's our right to our water. And we're just finally proposing a way to get that water over here for our use."

Believe it or not, the two counties have been arguing over this since 1930. But in recent months the issue has new momentum as Sanpete County is turning up the heat.

Claudia Jarrett/Sanpete County Commissioner: "Crops don't grow without water."

But critics say the value of growing extra hay is outweighed by the cost of the dam and by the value of the trout fishery. They say there are cheaper, less damaging alternatives, especially water conservation.

Alan Matheson/Trout Unlimited: "Projects like this don't make a lot of sense.”

Sanpete begs to differ and the fight goes on.

With the next few weeks, the US Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue a long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement. It's expected to play a big role in whether or not the project moves forward.

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