Update – Proposed dam near Zion National Park, UT.

Faced with a proposed dam, the East Fork Virgin River upstream of Zion National Park will now receive the environmental analysis it deserves

Virgin River, UT | Photo by Sinjin Eberle

Late last fall, a new dam and reservoir project was proposed on the East Fork of the Virgin River in southwestern Utah, just upstream from Zion National Park. The proponents of the project, Kane County Water Conservancy District, argued that the proposed $30 million dam would be relatively “small” by dam standards (a mere 90 feet high!) and the resultant Cove Reservoir would impound just over 6,000 acre-feet of water. But all dams can have outsized impacts on free-flowing rivers and the fish, wildlife, and ecosystems that depend upon them.

Proposed dam site on the East Fork Virgin River | Photo credit: NRCS
Proposed reservoir site on the East Fork Virgin River | Photo credit: NRCS

The East Fork Virgin River supplies water to Utah’s first Wild and Scenic River, the Virgin River, which carved the precipitous canyons of Zion National Park. The river is also home to two endangered fish (the woundfin and Virgin River chub) and the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. American Rivers was skeptical that a new, nine-story dam would benefit these species, as was claimed by developers in the project proposal and Draft Environmental Assessment (EA). You may know that an EA is an abbreviated environmental analysis meant for projects that would not cause significant, adverse impacts, but projects that do have the potential to cause significant harm often require a more thorough and lengthy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

On February 24, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) determined that due to the extensive concerns brought in the comments submitted during the Draft EA, the agency would require a full EIS for the proposed Cove Reservoir project later this spring. The EIS process will give those who care about the Wild and Scenic Virgin River, Zion National Park and endangered species more opportunities to weigh in on this dubious, taxpayer-funded project, which has been designed to benefit just 6,000 acres of agricultural lands in Kane and Washington counties. American Rivers, along with our local partners, have discovered that nearly two-thirds of those agricultural lands that may benefit from the project have already been developed into commercial and residential development projects, bringing the legality of the project into question as well.

Virgin River, UT | Photo by Sinjin Eberle
Virgin River, UT | Photo by Sinjin Eberle

We realize that environmental analyses of proposed dam projects can be technical, full of jargon and confusing. But we’ve got your back: The comments submitted by American Rivers and our partners have slowed this damaging project and has positioned the East Fork Virgin River to receive the in-depth environmental analysis it deserves. This means that there will be more opportunities for you to weigh in on this proposed project later this spring. In the meantime, you can keep track of the Cove Reservoir Project through NRCS on this website.

3 responses to “Update – Proposed dam near Zion National Park, UT.

  1. I don’t see how a project like this is compatible with Section 7 of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Is the NRCS with lead on the EIS? Have the Outstanding Remarkable Values for this WSR been defined? Did the NPS (assuming they are the management agency for the WSR) make a finding of no significant impact?

  2. I am a retired NRCS engineer and I love Zion national park and the Narrows. Reading this article we have 6000 acre feet to provide water to 6000 acres that’s 1 foot of water per acre. you don’t grow crops typically with 12 inches of water in Illinois you need about 36 to 48 inches of water something doesn’t add up here. What’s the price of 6000 acres $10,000 an acreI if it was in the Midwest crop land use. Look at the cost benefit ratio .30 million cost to water 60,000,000 acres that’s awesome high priced water. heck just buy out the land and farm 6000 acres in the Midwest as an exchange. What money is made from national park use? This is a national park, aren’t there rules against affecting it negatively?

  3. Mike Noel has always had a reputation for proposals that benefit himself and his buddies.. to the detriment of our state and its resources. Sure hope he doesn’t win on this one and you’re able to continue your need surveillance and opposition!

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