Is constructing an enormous dam, smaller dams or no dam finest for Cache County’s water future?

Logan Canyon Temple Fork is a beloved mountain climbing space by many Cache Valley locals, dwelling to one of many few websites the place Bonneville cutthroat proceed to thrive.

But sometime, the scenic tributary situated about 15 miles up Logan Canyon could possibly be inundated by a dam. It’s an idea some environmental and river advocates discover unfathomable, whereas space water managers say it’s urgently wanted to satisfy the pressures of a rising inhabitants and local weather change.

Temple Fork is considered one of six dam websites the state recognized as a part of the controversial Bear River Development. That mission would shore up 220,000 acre-feet from the Bear River and its tributaries — the biggest water supply for the Great Salt Lake. Of that water, 60,000 acre-feet would go to Cache Valley, and the rest would get pumped to prospects alongside the Wasatch Front.

When the Legislature handed the Bear River Development Act in 1991, lawmakers believed Utah’s booming inhabitants would want all that storage by 2015. But the Utah Division of Water Resources decided in 2019 the mission could possibly be pushed off till 2050, largely as a consequence of conservation efforts.

“We don’t totally agree that we don’t need the water until 2050,” Nathan Daugs, supervisor for the Cache Water District, instructed a bunch of Utah State University college students, state regulators and neighborhood members throughout a generally sunny, generally snowy area journey final week.

“We could have used more water last year in Cache County,” he mentioned. “We could use more water this year in Cache County.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nathan Daugs, with the Cache Water District, talks concerning the proposed Temple Fork Dam, Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Logan Canyon.

County voters fashioned the Cache Water District in 2016 to raised handle water sources and to have a stronger voice in initiatives just like the Bear River Development. Still, it stays a relative murmur in comparison with the clout of among the state’s bigger water districts.

The Cache Water District has a $275,000 funds this yr. By comparability, the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District boasts a funds of $122 million. Daugs, employed in 2018, is the Cache Water District’s solely worker.

“If you go to Jordan Valley or Weber Basin, those districts were formed 50-plus years ago in conjunction with big reservoir projects, and they were formed to deliver that water,” Daugs mentioned. “We were built backward. We were built with no water supply for anyone, but [have to] plan for how to get water to everyone 50 years from now.”

Cache County’s inhabitants of 137,000 is projected to swell by greater than 50% earlier than the Bear River initiatives may break floor, and the district is already dealing with challenges within the current.

Waterways are working dry

Last yr, Daugs mentioned, each river and creek ran dry earlier than reaching the Bear River, together with the Logan River. Hyde Park was mere days from working out of water totally till town requested residents to chop their outside irrigating in half.

“If someone’s house would have started on fire,” Daugs warned, “it would have burned down because their tanks didn’t have enough.”

While greater Utah cities have reservoirs to attract on throughout these dry spells, most Cache Valley communities depend on springs and groundwater.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The outstanding narrowing of the Temple Fork canyon, within the foreground, is the place the proposed Temple Fork Dam dam could be situated and the reservoir within the background, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Logan Canyon.

“Today, that’s a very reliable source,” Daugs mentioned. “Two decades from now, it may not be.”

Area municipalities don’t have backup water sources, making them susceptible to local weather change, Daugs mentioned. That’s why he want to see some reservoir initiatives developed in Cache County earlier than the state’s projected Bear River Development timeline.

Many Utahns, nonetheless, seem like dropping their urge for food for extra dams, particularly because the Great Salt Lake turns into desiccated and presents a looming public well being catastrophe as a consequence of blowing mud.

Temple Fork is a continuously lauded environmental victory in addition. Around 20 years in the past, USU college students, anglers and authorities companies labored to revive overgrazed habitat round Spawn Creek, one of many stream’s tributaries. The space grew to become an vital habitat and breeding floor for the Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah’s state fish and a species as soon as thought extinct within the Seventies.

The state’s Bear River Development proposal would put at 327-foot-tall dam on Temple Fork close to its confluence with the Logan River, wiping out all that fish habitat. The dam would maintain round 41,000 acre-feet of storage and a lake roughly the dimensions of Pineview Reservoir close to Ogden. Much of its water would get pumped up from the Logan River.

The state’s proposal contains two different dams so Cache County may get its full 60,000 acre-foot allotment — one immediately on Bear River and one other on Cub River. But Daugs mentioned Temple Fork has many benefits. It’s not as silty because the Bear, and its elevation in Logan Canyon means the water can circulate downhill to all of the inhabitants facilities as an alternative of being pumped.

Last yr, Daugs requested some USU engineering college students to discover a smaller mission as an alternative — a dam farther up Temple Fork that saved solely Temple Fork water, avoiding all of the pumps on the Logan River and restoration work round Spawn Creek. That proposal would retailer 10,000 acre-feet, making a reservoir about double the dimensions of Newton Reservoir and half the dimensions of Hyrum Reservoir.

“If we had even a small reservoir here, we could keep the Logan River flowing potentially all season long,” Daugs mentioned. “And then those environmental flows could be dedicated or shepherded to the Great Salt Lake in those drier years.”

The Cache Valley Water District proposes to dam Temple Fork, a tributary of the Logan River, to create a reservoir that may provide future water wants.

No dams ‘in the next decade’

The Cache Water District is working with engineering college students and consulting companies to discover smaller dams in different areas of the valley as nicely, together with on Blacksmith Fork close to Hyrum. But Cache County residents shouldn’t count on new reservoirs anytime quickly — dams usually take lengthy planning processes, environmental opinions and building durations.

“We’re not going to be starting a dam in the next decade for sure,” Daugs mentioned. “Probably not before I retire.

Marisa Egbert, Bear River Development planning supervisor for the Division of Water Resources, mentioned in an interview that she had by no means heard of the scaled-down dam proposals till the Temple Fork area journey with USU college students final week. But she mentioned the six reservoir initiatives the state has recognized to this point will doubtless start as smaller initiatives that develop over time in tempo with water demand.

“We have expectations that things will be built in phases,” she mentioned. “It does get tricky when you’re talking about this much water.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marisa Egbert, with Utah Dvision of Water Resources, talks concerning the proposed Temple Fork Dam, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Logan Canyon.

And earlier than any water districts can get the inexperienced mild for a Bear River Development mission, they would want to show they’ve contracts for at the very least 70% of the developed water.

“Bear River Development is going to be extremely expensive,” Egbert mentioned, “and it’s going to be extremely time-consuming.”

Once building launches, the water districts are on the hook to pay again the state for the funding, which is why these contracts are vital.

“I’ll be honest,” Egbert mentioned. “There’s been no discussions with any of the water districts in the 10 years I’ve been working on this about getting ready to sign a contract.”

A dam’s environmental toll

Some Bear River advocates say there’s no want for any dams in any respect, even with inhabitants progress forecasts, and particularly with the Great Salt Lake in dire want of extra water.

“In no way, shape or form, does the Cache Valley need Bear River Development,” mentioned Zachary Frankel, govt director of the Utah Rivers Council, labeling the dam concepts “propaganda.”

“That’s what happens in droughts,” he mentioned of water districts. “They scare people into thinking they’re running out of water.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The outstanding narrowing of Temple Fork Canyon, within the foreground, is the place the proposed Temple Fork Dam dam could be situated. Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Frankel identified that Cache County stays a largely agricultural neighborhood. In 2017, it had 276,273 acres of farmland in response to the newest U.S. Department of Agriculture census.

In 2015, a scathing legislative audit discovered the Division of Water Resources had offered deceptive projections about Utah’s future water wants, failing to gather dependable utilization information. The report additionally famous the division didn’t embody estimates of latest provides as agricultural land is developed into subdivisions and municipal use, which generally eat much less water.

“Cache County has a massive water supply, and it’s rapidly urbanizing its irrigated agriculture,” Frankel mentioned. “They’re playing games.”

Daugs, too, touted the valley’s farming heritage, noting that it’s one of many few locations the place hay is grown, despatched to dairies, changed into milk, and despatched to processing crops to turn into cheese or ice cream, then shipped to grocery shops, all mere miles aside.

“You can’t get more local production than that,” he mentioned. “If we lose that, now we’re trucking our milk in from California.”

About 95% of the county’s farms are family-owned, in response to the USDA, and greater than 25% of its producers are new or starting farmers.

Importantly, Daugs added, a lot of the valley’s agriculture is dry farming.

“There’s zero water associated with that,” Daugs mentioned, “so every house we build there takes new water.”

The USDA’s census discovered a 3rd of Cache County’s farmland is irrigated.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A area journey attendee opinions an data sheet on the proposed Temple Fork Dam, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Logan Canyon.

David Rosenberg, a professor in USU’s Utah Water Research Laboratory, focuses on “innovative water management” and arranged the Temple Fork tour. He mentioned his intention was to get the neighborhood fascinated by water options lengthy earlier than the state breaks floor on new reservoirs.

“It’s really important to discuss a potential dam now, 30 years before it’s going to be built, to engage people in conversations about Utah’s water development,” he mentioned. “There’s a lot that can happen between now and 30 years from now. These projects span multiple people’s careers.”

While he mentioned a smaller reservoir on Temple Fork would mitigate among the environmental harm the Bear River Development proposes, any dam comes with ecological penalties. He floated options like extra environment friendly agriculture and conservation as different water-saving methods.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Professors, geologists and water managers from Utah State University, Utah Division of Water Resources and the Cache Water District lead a area journey of about 60 individuals to debate the Temple Fork Dam and reservoir proposal, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Logan Canyon.

Water banking may show particularly promising, he mentioned. Under that idea, a water holder may select to place shares in a sort of “bank,” withdrawing what’s wanted, then leasing out what’s left. Potential lessees could possibly be farmers who wish to irrigate one other minimize of crops, cities dealing with shortages or environmental teams who wish to enhance stream flows for fish habitat or channel extra water to the Great Salt Lake.

State lawmakers accepted a pilot program for water banking in 2020. Cache Water District is among the individuals, working with two irrigation firms with shares in Hyrum Reservoir, with the experiment launching this yr.

“This is more shovel ready and ready to go” than a dam, Rosenberg mentioned. “It gives people flexibility.”

Daugs mentioned the district is exploring and open to all choices. But even with water banking, there’s a case to be made for extra storage, he mentioned, since it could make the “banking” of water simpler to measure and monitor.

“It’s one more tool we can use to help,” Daugs mentioned. “In Cache Valley, the problem is we don’t have any reservoirs to bank all that … but if we had a couple small reservoirs and water banking, you could do a lot.”

This article is printed via the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a options journalism initiative that companions information, schooling and media organizations to assist inform individuals concerning the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what might be accomplished to make a distinction earlier than it’s too late. Read all of our tales at

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