A proposed $50 million dam on the Price River Headwaters in Central Utah was recently approved by the Bureau of Reclamation amid financial controversy and widespread opposition. The dam would divert Colorado River water out of the basin generating a cascade of impacts upon ecosystems as well as communities who depend upon the river for drinking water. The project proponent has ignored several cheaper alternatives to provide water and major questions have arisen about their financial practices.
Trans-basin Diversion Will Have Devastating Environmental Impacts
The proposed diversion would bring many serious impacts upon the many ecological communities that rely on the Price River. The proposed diversion would:
- Dry up a popular blue-ribbon trout stream and hundreds of acres of sensitive headwater wetlands
- Drop the level of Utah’s second most productive fishery (Scofield Reservoir)
- Dry-up a 40,000 acre roadless gorge at the confluence with the Green River that provides rare spawning habitat for endangered Colorado pikeminnow, the Colorado River’s top predator.
The proposed diversion has been litigated and opposed downstream in neighboring Carbon County by the county commission, mayors, the fire departments, water users associations, farmers, miners and Rocky Mountain Power, among many others. The trans-basin diversion would reduce the county’s water supply, lower water quality, restrict fire suppression and create a dam safety hazard.
Shadowy Entity Violated State Financial Laws, Has Never Delivered Water to Residents
The dam proponent is a local group called the Sanpete Water District (SWD). Incredibly, this group has no staff, no offices, no trucks, and has never sold a drop of water to the residents they have claimed to serve since 1964. Worse yet, Sanpete County residents have paid over $4.5 million in taxes to this local district since 1997 without receiving any services—while the SWD has repeatedly refused to disclose financial records to the State. This refusal led the Utah State Auditor to withhold property taxes paid by taxpayers for 4 years, totaling well over $700,000. The amount was some 60 percent of all funds withheld across Utah during this time. The only public facade of this entity is a website with no phone numbers for the ‘government officials’ supposedly running the district. The official contact for this entity is a public relations firm.
Cheaper Alternatives Exist To Provide Water, But They Are Being Ignored
There are less destructive alternatives that can deliver water to Sanpete County for a fraction of the cost. But dam proponents have rejected water conservation that would provide water for pennies on the dollar, in favor of seeking $50-75 million in unnecessary spending. Unlined and damaged canals now lose half their water to seepage, so why put more water in this system? Existing water consumption across the project service area is 30% higher than statewide averages primarily because of the prevalence of un-metered secondary systems that facilitate waste. Through simple water conservation measures, Sanpete County can easily ensure it has enough water well into the future.