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Fox and Crescent Reservoir Maintenance Project, High Uintas Wilderness, Ashley National Forest 12/02


Send comments to Clark Tucker, District Ranger
85 W. Main, P.O. Box 981
Duchesne UT 84021


The Ashley National Forest (ANF) is proposing to allow the Dry Gulch Irrigation Company (DGIC) to repair two reservoirs, Fox and Crescent Lakes, near the headwaters of the Uinta River, under special use permits within the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW). The proposal supported by the Forest Service and Dry Gulch would include the use of helicopters staging on the Whiterocks Drainage just east of the HUW. Helicopters would intrude on the wilderness carrying outlet pipe, a new headgate, a skid loader with backhoe, a cement mixer and generator-- all to replace the outlet pipe, headgate, repair a number of leaks and raise the levees to match the elevation of the dam. Approximately 20 helicopter flights will be need over a single summer season along with 20 horse pack trips carrying additional material and work crews.


Both of these reservoirs were built early in the 1920s with horse and buggy. Attached to both reservoirs are legal water rights dating back to the 1920s. The water is used by Uinta Bain irrigators for late season irrigation, but accounts for only 12% of the water used by these irrigators!

These reservoirs predated the old High Uintas Primitive area and, of course, the 1984 designated High Uintas Wilderness. Both reservoirs are in need of repairs, notably Fox Lake, which is considered to be failing by both the Forest Service and the Division of State Water Rights. Both reservoired lakes are considered moderate hazards, meaning if they failed no loss of life would be expected.

Within the High Uintas Wilderness are 19 reservoirs, all established early in the century and constructed by horse and buggy. As you remember, barely a year ago we worked hard with the Forest Service and Central Utah Water Conservancy District to obtain a decision to decommission and stabilize 13 of these reservoirs on the Yellowstone and Lake Fork drainages. Unfortunately alternative water storage facilities have not yet been identified for the Uinta River reservoirs. Thus the extant conflict.

  1. Can the reservoirs be maintained without the intrusiveness of helicopters and skid loaders?
    +With deep and incredible irony the Forest Service dismissed the minimum tool alternative from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This alternative is required when considering actions within designated wilderness to determine whether an action can and should be implemented by primitive, non-motorized tools. While dam safety requirements were far different 70 years ago, it is nonetheless incumbent upon the Forest Service to fully analyze an alternative that would include the use of draft horses and wagons to move all of the necessary materials moved into the wilderness with a "leave no trace" effort that accomplishes the necessary repair work!
  2. Do the water rights preempt the Wilderness Act?
    +Of course not. While the Wilderness Act plainly recognizes pre-existing rights, these reservoirs are under a special use permit (which expires in 2005) that clearly implies these rights are temporary in nature and not necessarily connected only to the operation of these two reservoirs. The special use permit is also plainly dependent upon good faith maintenance by the Dry Gulch Irrigation Company, which has allowed these wilderness reservoirs to deteriorate substantially. In fact in 1998 the Forest Service had to force DGIC to make minor repairs to prevent the reservoir from failing and to draw Fox Lake down to 50% capacity. DGIC, with deep irony, again, countered that they would be forced to take a helicopter into the HUW, noting in their administrative appeal brief, "The helicopter flights required by the order are not consistent with wilderness values." While the special use permit is based on adequate maintenance and operational integrity imitated by the permit holder, it is clear that these reservoirs have not been properly maintained. The loss of stored water would have an inconsequential impact upon farming in Uinta Basin--the EIS notes no crops or animals, employment, or major income would be lost.
  3. Alternative Water Sources
    +The primary problem with this project is that the Forest Service is making it far too easy for DGIC to continue to be uncooperative about seeking alternative outside-of-wilderness water sources or to utilize meaningful conservation measures. It is imperative that the Operation and Maintenance agreement require DGIC to find alternative water sources outside of the wilderness before the special use permit is reauthorized. *The Forest Service must require DGIC to utilize minimum tool repairs, *utilize only the reservoir site for fill material to avoid any on-site impacts, and *allow no future motorized transportation for any inspections and maintenance. This will provide the incentive for DGIC to seek alternative water sources and assure the reservoirs will shortly be decommissioned and stabilized like their cousins to the east on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone Rivers.

Your wild voice is crucial on this complex issue, so please take a moment to write your comments to the Forest Service. Thank you so much!

High Uintas Preservation Council
P. O. Box 72
Hyrum, Utah 84319 

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