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East Fork Virgin River Proposed Dam Halted for More Analysis (UT)

Posted: 02/01/2021
By: Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater learned of a dam and diversion proposed in the East Fork of the Virgin River watershed late last year and was among several organizations that filed comments questioning the analysis behind the proposal. It was announced last week that approval of the Cove Reservoir would be delayed so a more robust analysis can be conducted. This is good news for the Wild and Scenic East Fork of the Virgin River as it flows through Zion National Park downstream of the proposed dam.  


The dam would be built in a side valley next to the East Fork of the Virgin River, and new canals would siphon off most or all of the high flows each year to fill the proposed reservoir according to our analysis. This water would then be released into other canals for agricultural and municipal use throughout the summer. The result would be a flatlined and greatly diminished river, with sediment building up, encroaching vegetation, and altered recreation experiences in Parunuweap Canyon and  other Class II and V reaches downstream like Timpoweap Canyon (pictured).


The analysis of the proposed dam and diversion project that we reviewed was a mess. It failed to state how much water would be withdrawn from the river, and what numbers were in the analysis were conflicting. Purported benefits of unrelated new hydropower projects were included in the analysis, but those projects are unlikely to be built because they will not pencil out. Purported improved summer stream flows were not guaranteed or disclosed in the analysis. The recreation analysis fabricated benefits of the new reservoir that appear unlikely to occur, while ignoring impacts to use of the river downstream. Virtually no mention was made of the environmental impacts on the designated Wild and Scenic values of the river. A new analysis is more than justified. 


We are encouraged that a higher level of analysis and scrutiny of this proposed dam and diversion will be occurring this year.

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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