A Salt Lake attorney who helped negotiate a compromise reduction in the flow level of the Provo River says the recent controversy was a "good little fire drill" that will help two fishing groups deal with future disputes over water rights in the river.
Continued disputes are likely because the water in the Provo River has been oversold, attorney Kenley Brunsdale said at a recent meeting at the Salt Lake County Complex sponsored by the Stonefly Society and the Federation of Fly Fishers.Brunsdale said the fishing groups gained much in the recent compromise process.
"It is significant that we built alliances, we made friends and also learned who our real adversaries are and what their weaknesses are," Brunsdale said.
The drill helped to identify water rights the fishing groups may be able to purchase and use to maintain water flow levels, Brunsdale said.
And, the fishing organizations demonstrated the ability to muster strength publicly, politically and legally to fight action they believe harmful to the Provo River and its blue-ribbon trout fishery.
A spirit of cooperation between the fishing groups and water users eventually developed, facilitated by the involvement of Rep. Wayne Owens. This led to the compromise agreement in which the flow level of the Provo River was reduced to 85 cubic feet per second rather than the 56 cfs originally sought by the water groups.
An environmental impact statement prepared as part of the Central Utah Project states 100 cfs is necessary for maintenance of the trout fishery in the river.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has closed the river to fishing while the flow level is reduced to protect the fishery.
The support of fishermen for this closure should be recognized as a one-time contribution toward solving the problem, Brunsdale said, and not be misconstrued as acceptance of 85 cfs as an adequate flow level for the river.
Brunsdale said the fishing groups and concerned citizens need to remain vigilant and to work toward permanent solutions to water-flow problems.
"When the congressional process starts, we will need support, particularly of people in Utah County," Brunsdale said. "They should be active in communicating their interests to political officials on all levels."
Brunsdale said the groups need to secure water rights that can be used to maintain sufficient flow level to protect the fishery, and to seek a legislative ally willing to sponsor legislation recognizing fishing as a beneficial water use and establishing minimal instream water flow levels in Utah rivers.
Wildlife groups, such as the fishing organizations, also need to seek an offensive rather than defensive position in Utah, Brunsdale said.
Brunsdale said there were several reasons the water groups sought to reduce the flow of the Provo River. Those reasons included a legitimate concern about water supplies available for Salt Lake County, and a desire to facilitate early delivery of CUP water to demonstrate to Congress that the project is nearing completion, and to initiate repayment of the project.