The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Cove reservoir near Orderville in Kane County, after receiving hundreds of public comments on the project last year.

Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD) plans to build a 6,000 acre-feet reservoir in Cove Canyon. The reservoir would divert water from the East Fork Virgin River during the spring and store it for agricultural and municipal uses in Washington and Kane counties.

Mike Noel, executive director of KCWCD, says that Kane County’s share of the water will be used to irrigate alfalfa fields in Long Valley. A more reliable water supply during the summer months would increase the number of alfalfa cuttings. 

Washington County holds about three-quarters of the water rights to the reservoir’s water. The water could be used for a combination of municipal uses, such as watering lawns, parks, and golf courses; as well as irrigation of alfalfa fields in Hurricane. 

If the water is treated, Noel estimates it could provide water for 6,000 homes in Washington County.

The St. George - Hurricane area has experienced rapid growth, and many alfalfa fields have been converted to residential and commercial development over the last decade.

Last year, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conducted an Environmental Assessment (EA). NRCS subsequently decided to do a full EIS “after careful project review and consideration of comments received on the Draft Plan-EA.”

One concern raised by the Utah Rivers Council was that “the majority of agricultural lands in the Cove Reservoir project area, as defined in the Environmental Assessment, have already been converted to municipal uses.” The Utah Rivers Council estimated that of the 4,900 acres of the farmlands the NRCS had identified, 3,300 acres had already been developed.

In January 2021, a coalition of seven organizations asked the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate whether the proposed Cove Reservoir is in violation of federal law.

Specifically the complaint argued that the water from Cove Reservoir would be used for municipal purposes, but was “cloaked as an agricultural project to receive generous federal funding.”

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, says that the NRCS “needs to be honest with taxpayers about the water uses.” 

The project will cost around $33 to $34 million to complete, according to Noel.

If built, Cove Reservoir would provide new recreational opportunities for Kane County residents. Boating, fishing, walking, bicycling, and bird watching are popular activities at the Jackson Flat Reservoir. 

The NRCS will hold a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 6 p.m., via Zoom. To join the meeting, log in at zoom.us/join, and enter meeting ID: 891 2373 1558.

The NRCS invites the public to submit scoping comments on the project “to identify opportunities, issues, and resource concerns.” Public comments should be sent to: Transcon Environmental Inc., Attn: Brian Parker, 1745 South Alma School Rd., Suite 220, Phoenix, Ariz., 85210; or emailed to: bparker@transcon.com with subject heading “Cove-East Fork Virgin River Watershed Project - Kane County, Utah.” The comment period is 30 days. Deadline for comments is TBD.