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Public Comment Needed to Stop a New Reservoir on the EF Virgin River (UT)

Posted: 04/18/2022
By: Kestrel Kunz

A proposed reservoir upstream of the Wild and Scenic East Fork of the Virgin River is undergoing environmental review and we need paddlers to speak up in opposition


We reported on this project last in early 2021, when we received good news that the proposed Cove Reservoir Project would require a full-scale environmental review with robust opportunities for public input instead of streamlined approval. That outcome was largely due to comments submitted by American Whitewater and our partners. 


In 2020, American Whitewater intervened, opposing the project on numerous grounds that are still relevant today. The purported project-need is to provide water to agriculture crops in Kane and Washington Counties in Utah, in the late Summer when East Fork Virgin River flows are low. However, American Whitewater has found that the project-need and feasibility are misleading and downstream impacts to environmental and recreational values have been overlooked. 


The project would be severely subsidized with tax-payer money and likely never make any return on the investment. Based on annual revenue estimates, the project would take 183 years to pay off while the life expectancy of the reservoir is only 100 years. Additionally, the primary crop in Kane County is alfalfa, which is almost entirely exported to Asia without providing food for local communities. 


The reservoir would divert Spring peak flows and cause the downstream hydrograph to flatline. Natural Spring runoff provides for unique packrafting opportunities in the BLM-managed portion of Parunuweap Canyon and boating downstream on the mainstem of the Virgin in Zion National Park. Depleting spring runoff would also likely cause riparian vegetation to encroach into the river channel, sedimentation to build up, and eliminate important biological cues and processes. Most importantly, a 7-mile segment of the EF of the Virgin River downstream of the proposed reservoir is designated as a Wilderness Study Area and Wild and Scenic River with outstanding cultural, geological, ecological, wildlife, and fish values. Permanently altering the otherwise natural hydrograph in this section would adversely affect all of the identified values. 


We need members of the paddling community to write to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the project proponent, and tell them to not move forward with the project, choosing the No Action Alternative. We’ve made it super easy for you to comment by using this online form. If you can add anything unique or personal to your comments that goes a long way. 


Comment link here:

Photo: Packrafting the Virgin River below the confluence with the East Fork Virgin River. Both rivers are threatened by the proposed reservoir project. 

Kestrel Kunz

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