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FARMERS STRUGGLE TO RECLAIM LANDS DAMAGED BY FLOODING

Some of the farmland flooded several years ago by Utah Lake is only now being reclaimed, as farmers recover from what nature and government did to their land.

Utah County agriculture agent Dean Miner said farmers face a number of struggles as they attempt to reclaim that land, including weeds and soil fertility concerns."Some of the lands that were flooded have had their makeup dramatically changed. Some of the land could be too saline, while others may have been overgrown by weeds or have become too rocky."

Miner said studies compiled by him and the Utah State University Extension Service reveal that while some of the land has had its water table changed, most of the land should be reclaimable.

A few farmers, however, faced some additional governmental hurdles in reclaiming their land, including removal of a dike that was built to prevent Utah Lake flooding but also damaged irrigation systems and prevented water from receding back into the lake.

More than 27,000 acres of crop and pasture land throughout Utah County was damaged by flooding of Utah Lake and its tributaries in 1983 and 1984. The lake level has returned this year to its preflood level, but only after 5,000 to 6,000 acres stayed under water for three to four years. Only now are some farmers beginning to recover their livelihoods.

Miner said the high runoff - which included flooding from the Spanish Fork River, Provo River and a number of smaller tributaries - caused $2.5 million in crop damage and $2.25 million in property damage.

Reed Christmas, a Spanish Fork resident who owns 30 acres in Lake Shore, says that by the time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built dikes, "the land was already flooded, and the dikes prevented some of the water from receding when the lake began to dry out."

Utah County Engineer Clyde Naylor said the diking was put in to prevent damage to residences, not to farmland, and that the county did what it contracted to do.

"The water level was 5 feet over the level of compromise, so we contracted with the Corps of Engineers to protect houses and businesses. Of course, some problems came with that, but they were just a select few."

Naylor said the county considers the issue to be dead and has done its best to settle the issue.

"I think that most of the land is usable now, and most of the litigation filed has been settled. I don't believe there was anything the county destroyed."

Christmas, whose son owns 20 acres adjacent to his property, said the diking and flooding so damaged his pastureland that he was forced to sell his cattle in 1984 and still prevents him from properly using the land.

"My irrigation system was destroyed by both the flooding and the diking. Look at this, the dike went right through my irrigation system."

Christmas said he's waged a five-year battle to get the dike removed, which it was earlier this year, and to have his ditch rebuilt, which the county has begun to reconstruct, though not with the proper materials.

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Hurdles to overcome

Among the hurdles seen by Utah County farmers in reclaiming land flooded by Utah Lake in 1983 and 1984:

-Weeds and rocks

-Salinity from lake water

-Change in water table

-Damage to irrigation systems and fences caused by diking

-Removal dikes