Safe Boating Passage Through Tusher Dam (UT) Is Threatened By New Conflict
The Green River, from the Flaming Gorge Dam to its confluence with the Colorado River, is known for its beautiful and iconic multiday paddling trips enjoyed by boaters and anglers. For as long as any of us can remember, the only man-made obstruction to boaters and fish on this stretch has been the Green River Diversion Dam (i.e., Tusher Dam), located just over 6 miles upstream of the town of Green River, UT and more than 120 miles above its confluence with the Colorado River. Since it was first built in 1913, the Tusher Dam and the keeper hydraulic it created forced boaters to either portage around it or run the unsafe hazard, while negatively affecting fish migration patterns.
However, the 2011 floods effectively destroyed the Diversion Dam, necessitating a full repair and creating an opportunity to improve river safety and navigability at the Dam. American Whitewater and our dedicated volunteers jumped on this opportunity, and through collaboration with local water users, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the public, we advocated for boat and fish passageways to be included in the final plan for rehabilitation, among other important improvements.
In June, 2014, we celebrated a great win when the NRCS released their Final Environmental Impact Assessment (FEIS) for the rehabilitation of the dam. Their preferred alternative, to Replace in Place with Passages, included a downstream boat passageway, and upstream and downstream fish passageways. In addition, under advisement from American Whitewater and public comments the NRCS allotted 147 CFS specifically to the boat chute as an in-stream water right, and another 70 CFS for the fish passages. This decision effectively removed the last manmade impediment to safe and unobstructed boating on the Green River from Flaming Gorge to the Colorado River. Two and a half years later, as rehabilitation of the Diversion Dam nears completion we are encountering multiple conflicts that could offset all the hard work that has been put in over the years to secure safe passageway for boaters and fish at the Diversion Dam.
The following problems have come to our attention:
- The signage that was agreed upon in the preferred alternative of the FEIS has not been installed upstream, instead the signs warn of a drowning hazard downstream and a mandatory portage.
- The water users at the Diversion Dam have expressed their perceived right to blockade the boat chute during low flows to meet their irrigation demands; this blockade would obstruct passage through the boat chute and create a possibly deadly hazard for unsuspecting boaters.
- The FEIS committed to developing a Flow Allocation Agreement between all parties with interest in the function of the Diversion Dam, however neither American Whitewater nor any other official representative have been invited to participate in the development of, or approve, such an agreement.
American Whitewater and our dedicated volunteers are making every effort to ensure that these problems are resolved in a timely manner, and that the action items in the FEIS are carried out with due diligence. We are currently working with our local volunteers to gather information about the project’s status and to build a comprehensive communication network between the involved parties. Using this information, American Whitewater is preparing a platform with which to present our concerns to the NRCS, regarding implementation of the Proposed Action Plan. Specifically, we are requesting that American Whitewater be invited to participate in any agreements that involve flow management and allocation at the Diversion Dam. In the meantime, we will be paying close attention to the project site to ensure that the proper signage is put in place and that the boat chute is made open to the public as soon as the final construction is complete.
The NRCS has a responsibility to the public to follow through with the commitments they made in their Proposed Action Plan, and American Whitewater plans to work with the NRCS to come to fair and sensible resolutions.
American Whitewater has been involved in the Tusher Dam rehabilitation project since the initial National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study in 2012, and as rehabilitation of the dam is nearly complete we must ensure that all of the hard work to take down the last obstruction to safe and navigable boating on the Green River becomes a reality.
Stay tuned for more updates as this project continues to unfold.
Big thanks to our dedicated volunteer, Herm Hoops, for the photos of the signs at Nefertiti and Swasey's boat launches, and for all his help on the ground.