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Kane County Water Conservancy District shares details on Cove Reservoir plans

As mentioned in last week’s issue of the Southern Utah News, the Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD) received around nine million dollars in appropriations grants for the construction of the Cove Reservoir in the Orderville area; KCWCD Director Mike Noel agreed to an interview to provide more information on the nature of the reservoir and the process leading up to its construction.

Photos courtesy of KCWCD.

Per Noel, the location for Cove Reservoir is special in a number of ways, such as its high altitude and cooler temperatures relative to the area it is servicing. These factors mitigate loss by evaporation, ease the logistics of transporting the water and allow for the possibility of hydroelectric power generation - and, according to Noel, the greatest asset in the area is its integration to Utah waterways. “Being the second driest state in the nation,” says Noel, “Utah needs to keep and use as many water rights as we can get. There are two reservoirs down the line from us that keep the water in Utah, and if they’re full, that’s water that Utah is losing as it flows into Nevada.” The KCWCD estimates the value of the water rights involved in the construction of the reservoir at around $80 million.

“It’s a great venue,” Noel says. “It’ll be deeper [than Jackson Flat in Kanab,] allow for more fisheries, more bird habitats, increase tourism and recreation, water reliability will help local agriculture and help Washington County with their water needs - this is one of the most cost effective water conservation projects they’ve had. Washington has been a great partner on this, we have a great working relationship with their staff and the county’s board of trustees.”

Noel states his organization has been waiting for this since the initial plans for the project were filed in the 90s: “We’ve been waiting for this project to come to fruition for 30 years - it’s never easy getting the legislature’s attention. This year the legislature was very kind to us, we had some good representatives we’re working very closely with, and of course Washington county has been a good partner to us.”

There has been some pushback from local environmental and recreational groups, contesting that the reservoir will interrupt local river access and habitats of local animals - there was enough public pushback on the project to warrant, by state policy, an additional measure of environmental assessment. As such, the reservoir project was required to complete not only an initial environmental assessment, but also to file an environmental impact statement with regulators; that statement is set to have a first draft filed by October 2024, with final approval by November or December of the same year.

The dam required to create the reservoir was classified as a “high hazard dam,” which, according to the KCWCD, does not mean the dam is more prone to failure than another dam; rather, that the potential loss of life or property should the dam fail is higher. “There’s higher risk, so there’s more care and maintenance that goes into taking care of the dam,” says Noel. “Luckily, with a dam like this one, there’s lots of ways to detect potential failure and fix the problem, and even if there is a risk of failure, you have plenty of notice in advance to address the issue and keep people safe.” Noel goes on, “80 percent of the population of Utah is sitting below high hazard dams like this one, with places like Ogden Canyon and Pine View. Utah has plenty of experience taking care of dams like these.”

The KCWCD estimates that once construction starts in earnest, the project will take about two years to complete - Noel puts the optimistic time frame around 2027 completion, perhaps early 2028 depending on conditions. Once the project is begun using the funding from legislative appropriations, Noel cites a high likelihood of additional funding coming from public watershed programs and clean power grants - the reservoir is prepared for a two generator hydroelectric plant funded by such grants, which are expected to generate 15 to 22 thousand dollars in clean electricity.

Noel expressed gratitude to some of the local family members and property owners in the area who had aided in the acquisition of land and rights to construct the dam and reservoir, stating that cooperation had allowed much more cost-effective options for the project.

Further information can be found on the KCWCD’s website, as well as avenues for questions and feedback in their contact information page. Information on the appropriations bill funding the project is available on the legislature’s site detailing this year’s recently concluded legislative session.




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