Scofield Dam

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Initial development plan connected Scofield, Gooseberry dams

By Richard Shaw, Staff reporter

(Sun Advocate, July 22, 2003)

(See also: Wikipedia article about Scofield Reservoir)

World War II resulted in numerous changes in the United States and the Carbon County area.

After Pearl Harbor, national defense became paramount and many projects were delayed because of the conflict.

However, several projects moved to the forefront due to the war. One of the developments was the creation of Scofield Reservoir.

When the first Scofield dam was constructed by private concerns in 1926, developers thought the reservoir would provide water for Carbon County agriculture for many years. But in 1928, the water level in the reservoir had to be lowered because the dam structure was already starting to fail.

Officials would later determine that the original dam had three major problems, based on the site where the original structure was located.

First, the dam was built on at least two constantly flowing springs. The running water ate away at the base of the dam.

Second, the dam was not constructed on bedrock, but built on softer soil that separated from the harder surface. Third, the surface where the dam had been placed was not prepared properly for the large structure. Due to the problems, parts of the dam began to fail in spring 1927.

By the following year, the situation had become so severe that a trainload of men had to be rushed to the dam to control the leaks.

After that happened, the state water engineer issued an order specifying that about one-half of the water the dam was originally designed to store be allowed to accumulate in the reservoir.

The state engineer's storage limitation order created hardship downstream, where agricultural concerns had planned on receiving significantly more water from the reservoir, according to historical and legal records.

The first dam at Fish Creek continued to serve its function in a reduced capacity. However, state officials, the railroad and the coal mining industry continued to cast a jaundiced eye on the structure, concerned that what had happened following the collapse of the Mammoth Dam in 1917 could be repeated.

The situation lasted until the late 1930s, when officials in the county began to look for ways to rebuild the dam or construct a new structure.

The Great Depression was almost a decade old and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program to put unemployed men to work was in high gear.

Water project developers thought that, with the federal government's direct financial assistance and the indirect help of the CCC, a new dam could be built at Scofield.

At the time, the country was also in the midst of an almost decade old drought, one of the longest the west has witnessed in the last 100 years.

The dry conditions had created the dust bowl in Oklahoma and Texas and threatened agriculture in the Castle Valley area.

The nationwide drought also threatened farmers in the Sanpete area.

While Sanpete and Carbon had been at odds for years about water from the drainage, the crisis prompted the counties to work toward developing water projects.

Carbon and Sanpete officials subsequently agreed to cooperate in order get the dams the two areas needed.

Through the joint effort, in conjunction with Emery County, the Utah Fish and Game Department and other agencies, the chances of completing the water developments were increased based on the strength of the group.

The loosely connected consortium first worked toward building a new dam at Scofield.

Remnants of the first Scofield dam stand approximately 800 feet upstream from the present structure, completed in 1946. The

old dam, built in 1926, was a failure almost from the beginning due primarily to

inadequate engineering and ground preparation at the Fish Creek location.

Once the new Scofield storage structure was finished, the partnership planned to construct a dam in the Gooseberry Narrows along with a diversion tunnel to transport water to the Sanpete Valley.

In 1939, one smaller water project was completed in Sanpete County that continues to affect the drainage system.

The CCC built the lower Gooseberry Dam. The dam was reconstructed in 1990 and continues to store water for recreational as well as agriculture purposes.

However, none of the water from the lower Gooseberry reservoir is transported into the Sanpitch drainage system. By 1940, the groups were working toward the goal of getting a new dam in Pleasant Valley built.

But financial conditions in the U.S. made it difficult to push the water development through the federal government, even with the force of multiple counties asking for the project.

But things finally started to move forward in the winter of 1941.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation became involved in the matter because of the federal agency's connection to the Colorado River drainage.

BOR began a survey to evaluate the relationship between the land and water ownership in the drainage system.

By April, the agency's survey had established the majority of the related relationship and BOR was making plans to set up CCC camps at Scofield and Fairview for workers on the projects.

Based on media and historical accounts, most American citizens and leaders realized that war loomed on the horizon.

Talk of making plans for infrastructure to support the pending war effort started and U.S. politicians became steadily more involved in the matter

One idea introduced by local officials and picked up by Utah Gov. Herbert Maw linked the proposed dam and the generation of electrical power.

The concept did not go very far and soon part of the argument for building the dam at Scofield switched to focus on supplying the water to operate a coal-fueled generating plant.

Eventually, the coal generating power concept became a reality when the Carbon power plant near Castle Gate came on line in 1954.

The same year, the Utah Legislature passed a law ordering water districts in the state to consolidate. Numerous agricultural water districts were operating across Utah and the situation was becoming confusing as well as fraught with legal ramifications.

The 1954 legislation would have a significant effect on how and when Scofield Dam would be built.

In 1941, the U.S. government agreed to assist with constructing the dam if local water users would consolidate into districts. Basically, the consolidation would create taxing entities to repay any money loaned to the districts for construction of the dam.

Carbon had already taken that step by creating a county water conservation district. However, Sanpete had yet to create a taxing public water supply entity.

But state officials had already subscribed water to users residing in Sanpete County and support for building a second dam on Gooseberry Creek was strong.

The concept was to construct a dam large enough to store 16,000 acre feet and to build a tunnel 14,000 feet long to deliver the water to the Sanpete Valley.

It appeared things were going ahead on the Carbon and Sanpete fronts, with the support from all groups involved in the loosely formed partnership.

But in late July, the situation began to change. The first mention of dividing up the projects instead proceeding with the water developments jointly started to appear.

In the July 17 edition of the Sun Advocate, a news article reported that the Scofield Reservoir Committee formed to secure rights and funding for the dam discussed dividing up the projects because the Sanpete organizations were not ready to move toward construction of the structures.

Basically, Carbon wanted to move ahead without any financial or political support from Sanpete County concerns.

That meant Carbon would have to come up with $155,000 rather than the $85,000 that originally proposed.

In the agreement between the organizations in the two counties, Sanpete was to pay $70,000 toward the construction of the Scofield dam in consideration for building the Gooseberry structure.

The proposed Gooseberry Narrows reservoir would draw water from the Scofield drainage.

In addition, the newspaper article indicated that the Scofield committee had decided to inquire about expanding the reservoir so it could hold another 10,000 acre feet of water in excess of the original concept

With the increased storage capacity, the dam would have to be larger, making the cost to Carbon concerns register at $175,000.

In a letter to the reclamation bureau, Carbon developers indicated that they wanted to move ahead on the project, with or without Sanpete's support.

Carbon County developers advised the federal agency "it was pointed out that the Gooseberry interests are apparently not yet ready or willing to participate in the Scofield-Gooseberry project as originally planned."

"Carbon County people, however, are very much interested in the rehabilitation of the Scofield reservoir and extremely anxious to have construction work start on it immediately," indicated the letter to the federal agency.

"It is also understood that, if the Gooseberry project should be completed at a later date, Sanpete County interests will be required to reimburse Carbon County interests to the extent of about $85,000," pointed another section of the letter to the reclamation bureau drafted by the Carbon County committee.

The rift between the two counties regarding water had moved into the legal and governmental ranks.

And by the end of 1941, new pressures created by national defense concerns would move Carbon and Sanpete counties farther apart about whether the Gooseberry project should be pursued.