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FEUD OVER DAM PROPOSAL SPILLS OVER INTO COURTS

SHARE FEUD OVER DAM PROPOSAL SPILLS OVER INTO COURTS

The bicounty feud over a proposed dam on the Wasatch Plateau has spilled over into the courts.

A broad-based coalition of downstream water users has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to block development of the "Narrows Project," a dam that Sanpete County wants to build on Gooseberry Creek about 17 miles above Scofield Reservoir. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided in May that the project could proceed.John Anderson, attorney for the Sanpete Water Conservancy District, said the lawsuit is simply another attempt by Carbon County to reverse agreements it negotiated with Sanpete in 1984.

By dewatering the Price River drainage, the dam would harm downstream fisheries, wetlands, human health and the economy of Carbon County, according to the 48-page lawsuit, which names the U.S. Department of the Interior and the bureau as defendants.

The Sanpete Water Conservancy District already has applied to the bureau for at least $11.2 million in federal loans to build the $17.3 million project, which would impound about 17,000 acre-feet of water.

Each year, the reservoir would deliver 5,400 acre-feet of water to north Sanpete County. Most of the water would be used to help farmers grow a third crop of alfalfa, though some would be available for watering lawns in Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City and Moroni.

Though the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that Sanpete County has a right to the water, Carbon County officials and Wasatch Front environmentalists say

the dam would cause more harm to Carbon County than good to Sanpete County.

The lawsuit alleges that the annual financial benefit to Sanpete County would be about $325,000 per year, yet the potential loss to Carbon County could run in the millions. For example, Utah Power relies on Scofield Reservoir for about half the water used in its power plant in Helper.

If water shortages force the closure of that power plant, it could cost Utah Power $3 million per month to purchase replacement power for its customers in Carbon County, the lawsuit states.

In its effort to obtain an injunction against the dam, the lawsuit alleges that the Bureau of Reclamation violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Small Reclamations Projects Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the lawsuit, the bureau failed to consider alternatives to the dam; failed to disclose all the environmental impacts, including the potential impact on the endangered Colorado River squawfish, which was recently discovered in the lower Price River.

The lawsuit also alleges that the consulting firm that prepared the environmental impact statement, upon which the bureau based its decision, has "an impermissable conflict of interest." Franson-Noble and Associates Inc. was employed by the water district to advocate the project at the same time it was studying it, the lawsuit alleges.

Anderson denied that Franson-Noble did anything other than the environmental study. The allegation of a conflict of interest "is just not true," he said.

Plaintiffs are the Carbon Water Committee, which is composed of the Carbon County Commission and several cities; Utah Power; the Utah Wilderness Association; the Utah Rivers Conservation Council and three individuals.