A coalition of water and wildlife officials and representatives of sportsmen's organizations is looking at ways to meet stream-flow regulations to protect Provo River's fishery.
Water officials are also concerned about using scarce Deer Creek supplies to maintain fish in light of this summer's dry conditions and the potential for drought next summer.The options seem to point to a compromise between those who want to sell water and those who want to fish in it, and timing is critical because the brown trout in the river spawn during November. Decreases in river flows after fish eggs have been laid could leave the eggs high and dry before they hatch next May, said Dee Hansen, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Federal environmental regulations established in conjunction with the development of the Central Utah Project's Bonneville Unit require officials to maintain a 100-cubic-foot-per-second flow in the river. But the flows will drop below that level during the winter even if all of the Deer Creek water allocated to the CUP is used to bolster stream flows, said Lee McQuivey, assistant projects manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Hansen said the apparent options are to reduce flows before the trout lay their eggs (the figure most frequently mentioned is 60 cfs), or continue to release enough water from the Deer Creek dam to maintain the 100 cfs flow until the available water is spent. After that the flows could drop as low as 35 cfs, Hansen said.
"If we kill the eggs or the level drops and the frost gets them, what have we accomplished?" Hansen said. It is possible water developers have shortchanged sportsmen and environmentalists in the past, "but this year we could lose the fishery" if continued mandates for 100 cfs flows create more serious problems in midwinter when CUP allotments run out.
Part of the CUP allotment could be committed to maintain flows over the protest of water users, "but that would only solve the problems for two of the five months" between now and the time the spring snow melt supplements releases from Deer Creek, McQuivey said.
Next year's allotments of CUP water from Deer Creek could be drawn as early as Nov. 1. But if the reservoir is only half full, only half of next year's allotment could be used until the reservoir fills, if it fills, in the spring, McQuivey said. As of Oct. 20, the reservoir was holding about 68,000 acre-feet, about 45 percent of the reservoir's capacity of 152,600 acre-feet.
Salt Lake City, which owns a major block of Deer Creek's water, usually shuts down its aqueduct and uses wells during the winter to maintain carry-over storage for the next year. McQuivey said city water officials are considering the possibility of delaying that change and continuing to pump Provo River water into the aqueduct downstream from the area where flows are regulated.
The pumping process has gone on during summer months when water not needed for drinking was released from the dam to meet fish flows. The bureau has been paying the pumping costs.
The coalition, called the Provo Riverflow Studies Group, was formed after the issue was discussed Wednesday at a meeting called by reclamation. All of the top water officials from the bureau, the state, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Orem, Provo, the Provo River Water Users Association and several sportsmen's and environmental groups attended.
McQuivey said Friday the bureau is already trying to find water owners, mostly irrigation companies, that have Deer Creek water they would sell so the bureau would have additional supplies available to bolster the stream flow.
Tuesday the group plans to meet again to discuss options and possible compromises.
A DWR report on the effects lower stream flows would have on the fishery and fall spawning was to be ready for publication Jan. 1, but the date was pushed ahead to Dec. 1 because of the possible repercussions if a decision is made to reduce river flows.