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Utah News

Utah looks to reduce environmental impacts of future reservoirs

A sunset at Lake Powell.
Utah Division of Water Resources
The sun sets on Lake Powell, which has experienced record low water levels in recent years.

In his 2022 budget proposal, Governor Cox tasked the state with exploring the building of new reservoirs to store water in order to help alleviate water shortages across the state if the megadrought continues.

Todd Stonely, the assistant director at the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the state has a list of potential reservoir locations they’ve compiled over the years.

“Many of these sites originated from reports published in the late 30s and 40s. Other sites have been gleaned from various engineering studies and reports. So we've narrowed down that list to the 300 that looked most promising,” Stonely explained.

Dams have become increasingly controversial as their environmental impacts are more publicized. However, Stonely said the state’s focus is on enlarging current reservoirs to minimize environmental impacts associated with building new dams, and any new potential reservoir sites will have to pass multiple evaluations before construction could begin.

“Any future potential reservoir evaluations would need to meet some further criteria…so, that further analysis would include the following: a detailed geologic evaluation, detailed hydrologic analysis, including potential impacts of climate change, and a preliminary design and cost benefit analysis. And if a site is selected for development, it would go through a NEPA or similar process,” Stonely said.

The NEPA, or “National Environmental Policy Act” process would assess environmental impacts by the construction of a dam, and whether they can be mitigated.

Besides surface reservoirs, other options for water storage are also available if the chosen water storage locations allow for them.

“There's also alternatives to surface storage. ASR is what it's called, aquifer storage and recovery…an example of a project that's being done that's existing right now is at the mouth of Weber Canyon. An old gravel pit that's no longer used, some water is being diverted into there to recharge the aquifer,” Stonely said.

The state has no current timeline on building reservoirs, but Stonely said to keep an eye out for updates on the project.

More information about reservoirs and Utah’s ground water usage is available at https://water.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Conjtv-Mgmgt-Surf-Grndwtr.pdf and https://water.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Managing-Sediment-In-Utahs-Reservoirs1.pdf.