Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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Culinary Water Problems: 1950-1960

Because the Fremont River water was deemed unsafe for drinking, and since a well was never drilled, the search for an adequate culinary water supply continued throughout the 1950s. For most of the first 20 years of the monument's existence, all culinary water came directly from the river. It was carried by irrigation ditches and then diverted into cisterns, where the silt would settle, leaving clear water for use. Water was then either pumped or gravity fed into the individual houses. By the early 1950s, the Capitol Reef Lodge was chlorinating all its water; lodge staff later took the additional step of boiling all drinking water. These precautions were probably were taken because the lodge served food to the public.

In 1951, public health inspectors recommended that the National Park Service dig a well for its culinary water. Until this was done, the service recommended that all drinking water be hauled by truck from a safe water source. At the very least, the public health inspector warned, visitors should be advised to boil all water taken from the river or cisterns. [48]

Consequently, a larger, concrete cistern was installed behind the superintendent's house, and plans were made to haul water from Bicknell, 23 miles west of the park. By 1955, Kelly had given up on the Bicknell trips because they were "unsatisfactory and impractical." He argued that he knew of no one who had become sick from drinking river water. The time and effort necessary to make a 46-mile round-trip in an old tanker truck, however, was probably the most compelling reason to discontinue trucking water from Bicknell. [49]

By 1957, Charles Kelly was chlorinating Fremont River water collected in his cistern and then trucking the water to the campground. Despite the recommendations of both the 1951 and 1953 Public Health Service inspections, Kelly refused to truck the water down from Bicknell. In 1958, another sanitation report warned that the situation would no longer be tolerated. [50] Kelly argued that, since not one visitor had become sick in 17 years of drinking the Fremont River water, "this was better evidence of its safety than any laboratory test." Kelly also pointed out that since the campground was soon to be moved (according to Mission 66 plans). Since the cost and trouble of transporting water from Bicknell were so great, it would better to postpone any changes to his system. [51]

He was overruled. By April 1959, (two months after Kelly had retired) water was once again being hauled from Bicknell. Once at the park, it was transferred to two new 1,000-gallon tanks, treated, and then gravity-fed to the ranger station and Sulphur Creek campground. The yearly cost of hauling the water from Bicknell was estimated at $2,000. [52]

By the end of the 1950s, water rights and supplies were able to meet the existing minimum demands. Then, the advent of Mission 66 and new highway construction through the heart of Fruita enabled the park service to purchase most of the remaining private inholdings. With these purchases came additional water rights and corresponding problems, usually from outside the monument.

Water Issues of the 1960s and 1970s

Purchase Of The Remaining Fruita Water Rights: 1961-1978

The National Park Service acquired the remaining Fruita properties for administrative, development, and rights-of-way purposes. The first private inholdings in Fruita were acquired in 1961 through condemnation of taking, in order to obtain a right-of-way for the new state highway through the Fremont River canyon. [53] The Declaration of Taking, filed June 2, 1961, by Department of the Interior Solicitor Frank J. Barry, specified that these lands were needed "for road construction and for national monument purposes for the benefit and enjoyment by the visiting public." Along with the lands and buildings, "all and singular water rights" were also acquired by the National Park Service. [54] The lands involved in this declaration of taking included:

  • Tract 3, Elizabeth and Richard Sprang's 133.93 acres and 1.883 c.f.s. water rights from the Fremont River [55];

  • Tract 7, Cora Smith's 28 acres and 0.147 c.f.s. from the Fremont River;

  • Tract 8, 17 acres and .16 c.f.s. of Dean and Lila Brimhall's 54 total acres and .44 c.f.s. from the Fremont River. Also acquired in 1961 were "all the seller's interest in diligence water rights from Sand Creek also known as Sulphur Creek." In December 1961, the National Park Service acquired the remaining rights to the Brimhalls' property and water. [56]

  • Tract 9, Max and Ailene Krueger's 65.38 acres and 1.37 c.f.s. from the Fremont River;

  • Tract 10, Campbell brothers' Wonderland Stage's 40 acres east of Fruita, with no known water rights.

Thus, the total amount of land acquired in the Declaration of Takings was 284.31 acres. The water rights amounted to 3.84 c.f.s. from the Fremont River and an undetermined portion from Sulphur Creek. [57]

Because of compensation disputes with landowners Cora Smith and Max Krueger, a Final Judgment in Condemnation was not issued until late 1962. On November 30, U.S. District Judge A. Sherman Christensen ruled that the Declaration of Taking was legal and proper and that all just compensation had been made. Thus, Judge Christensen upheld the National Park Service right to those lands and water rights. [58]

Also in 1962, the National Park Service acquired Clarence Mulford's and Ruby and Clarence Chesnut's properties through purchase. Mulford's land was estimated at 144.5 acres, and he held claim to 1.77 c.f.s. of Fremont River water rights. The Chesnuts had 40.9 acres and up to 1.38 c.f.s. of Fremont River water.

The specific amount of water rights acquired from the Chesnuts in 1962 could be disputed, since their parcel was almost six acres smaller than it had been when the Bates Decree was issued in 1935. This reduction was due to a 1936 sale of land to Doc Inglesby, who then sold 2.69 acres to the builders of Capitol Reef Lodge. On the other hand, both the Inglesby and the Capitol Reef Lodge tracts were acquired by the National Park Service by 1978; therefore, the entire 1.38 c.f.s. of Fremont River water rights eventually belonged to the National Park Service. Aside from the exact amount of water rights attached to the Capitol Reef Lodge property, the purchase of the Gifford farm in 1969 should have given Capitol Reef National Monument the remaining .35 c.f.s. of the 8.0 c.f.s. Fremont River water rights decreed in 1935. [59]

Water Supply And Irrigation Improvements: 1962

Between June 1, 1961 and June 30, 1962, Fruita's irrigation system was vastly improved. With the imminent removal of several private inholders and the acquisition of their water rights, the park service could unilaterally upgrade the area's ditches and flumes. When the Fremont River road construction began in July 1961, several ditches and flumes were relocated and others were created to serve the same property as before construction. The improvements specifically related to the road construction consisted of 3,254 feet of new ditches, 32 feet of round culvert, 250 feet of pipe arch, and one ditch value replacement. Other improvements consisted of replacing two flumes on the old Alma Chesnut property and three flumes on the "Old Guy Place," which was owned by the Sprangs. Unfortunately, there is no map to document exactly where the new ditches were constructed. [60]

The culinary water supply was greatly improved with the 1963 completion of the water treatment plant and distribution system. No longer was water hauled from Bicknell in tank trucks and stored in the two large cistern tanks behind the ranger station and in the residence area. Maintenance Foreman Bernard Tracy was responsible for the early operation of the plant, including testing, treatment, and release of water as needed. The new sewage system for the expanded residence area and the new 50-site campground along the Fremont River was also in place by early 1963. [61]

Fremont River Water Rights: 1963-1965

In the spring of 1963, the Torrey Irrigation Company asked the district court to re-examine the Fremont River water rights to determine whether the Hanksville company was using all of its water properly. While the ensuing two years of hearings did not directly affect Capitol Reef's rights, they did point out the need to monitor water use in Fruita more closely, in case future complaints were directed toward the monument.

The complaint was filed because the irrigators at Torrey believed that members of the Hanksville Irrigation Company had illegally diverted 1.5 c.f.s. from near the mouth of Pleasant Creek. Apparently, the Torrey Irrigation Company intended to prove that the purchase and redirection of this 1.5 c.f.s. had been done without the necessary paperwork, making the work invalid. Another dispute existed over exactly how much water was being lost to a Garkane power plant diversion near Teasdale. [62]

When the case was first presented to Judge Erickson in March 1963, the National Park Service was not even aware that a complaint had been filed. Yet, because there were only a few water users at this preliminary hearing, and since there was wide disagreement among those present, Judge Erickson ordered that accurate monitoring devices be installed at all diversions. [63]

National Park Service officials belatedly learned that these devices were to be installed by June 1, 1963. At a subsequent hearing, they successfully requested Judge Erickson and Deputy State Engineer Hubert Lambert to grant more time. The new devices, however, renewed concern that someone would discover that Capitol Reef was not using all of its decreed water. National Park Service Civil Engineer William E. Fields wrote:

Since we now are probably in excess of 100 acres [of land owned in Fruita] and by special permit [with Worthen Jackson] we are only getting 36 acres of this irrigated for us, it was mutually agreed that, if possible, we should hire a man full time to take charge of the irrigating. This man not only would see to it that beneficial use was made of the water but would be charged with keeping precise records of where and when water is applied. [64]

This is most likely when irrigation records for Fruita began to be recorded on a somewhat regular basis. Previously, most if not all users of the Fremont River ignored the 1935 Bates Decree and used what water they wanted. There was no accurate monitoring and no apparent supervision from the state engineer's office since the 1937 Freeman Tanner report. [65]

These 1963-65 hearings established that the Bates Decree was to be the official basis for all water rights claims on the lower Fremont River. Judge Erickson ruled during the May 24, 1963 hearing:

The last legal action pertaining to water rights in this case was a decree by Judge Nephi Bates on July 15, 1935. At that time there were certain water rights defined and at the same time primary and secondary water was stipulated (sic). Since that time there has been no legal action at all based on this decree or use or non-use of the water. There have been no official records kept of use or non-use and as of now water rights, as far as the court is concerned, are the same as they were in the decree. [66]

Erickson said that the 1935 decree would be used as a basis for all his future decisions. Thus, if Capitol Reef managers wanted to make sure they maintained the monument's share of Fremont River water, they had to prove that the National Park Service had legally acquired water rights with its Fruita land purchases. [67]

An ongoing concern from National Park Service officials during these hearings was that Capitol Reef was not credited for all of the water rights it had acquired up to 1963. This caused the National Park Service to re-investigate all previous land sales in order to itemize exactly how much water came with which purchases. [68]

By the end of 1965, the hearings were concluded and Capitol Reef's water rights had not been changed. This period of judicial involvement did, however, change some management practices at the monument. Water was more closely monitored, and more complete docket files were created in order to better document the National Park Service's water rights.

Aldridge Dam Proposal: 1959-1964

Judge Erickson suggested during the 1963 hearings that all Fremont River water users would benefit if they held claim to as much of their right as possible, so they would not lose out to other states further down the Colorado River. One way water could be more beneficially used, according to Erickson, was to build a reservoir for winter storage somewhere on the lower Fremont River. [69]

Caineville and Hanksville irrigators, who often saw the Fremont River slow to a negligible trickle during the middle of the summer, had dreamed of such a reservoir for some time. The site chosen for a modest earthen dam and reservoir was just east of the abandoned ranch community of Aldridge, approximately 5.5 miles east of the monument boundary.

In 1959, the Utah Water and Power Board urged the National Park Service to lend its support to diverting the new highway, Utah State Route 24, around the proposed reservoir site. [70] Zion National Park Superintendent Paul Franke responded that, since the dam site was outside the monument, the state highway department was in complete control of the new road's alignment. For Franke, the only concern of the National Park Service was whether the dam's height might cause water to back up Pleasant Creek into the monument. [71] Capitol Reef Superintendent William Krueger knew the Aldridge dam proposal was supported by several prominent local leaders. Nevertheless, he observed, "It is well known by the old-timers that such a structure would be of value only a short time and then would fill [with sediment] from the flood waters of the many washes and streams above." [72]

Despite this assessment, the Utah Water and Power Board submitted an application to appropriate water for the site in November 1960. This application specified that the proposed earthen foot dam would be built just east of the present river ford. The dam was to be 100 feet high, impound 17,000 acre-feet of water, and inundate 660 acres surrounding the junction of the Fremont River and Pleasant Creek. The reservoir would be about 1 3/4 miles long and about 1/2 a mile wide. [73]

The highway through the Fremont River canyon was completed in 1962. Its new alignment closely followed the river past its junction with Pleasant Creek and through the heart of the proposed reservoir. Nevertheless, to avoid the rather narrow stretch of canyon in which the dam was proposed, the Utah Water and Power Board provided the necessary funds to divert the road onto the southern benches. [74] Meanwhile, the application process continued. The proposal to build the Aldridge dam and reservoir was published in the Richfield Reaper on December 20, 1962. No protests were reported. Since the state engineer's office saw no initial reason to postpone the project, the formal application was approved on June 30, 1963. [75]

In February 1964, the Utah Water and Power Board called a meeting of all lower Fremont River water users to explain the next steps necessary to get dam construction underway. The project would cost approximately $225,000, which would be provided by the Utah Water and Power Board. This money would be repaid over a period of years by all users of the lower Fremont. In order to insure adequate water supply, orderly apportionment, and repayment, the Utah Water and Power Board would also assume all water rights on the lower Fremont River until the dam was paid off. The rights taken would include those above the proposed dam, such as at Fruita, as well as the actual users of the reservoir's waters below the dam. [76]

While Superintendent Krueger did not offer an opinion of the project or its implications for Capitol Reef. However, Regional Director Daniel Beard observed that the Aldridge dam appeared to be "a reasonable solution to the problem," if he understood the proposal correctly. [77] Yet, R. W. Reed, the new branch chief of water resources, cautioned Beard about the project's possible effect on Capitol Reef's still uncertain water rights. Reed argued that "the loss of water, if any, resulting from non-participation may not be great enough to warrant the additional cost of participation." [78]

Unfortunately, this is where all National Park Service correspondence on the Aldridge dam and reservoir project ends. The dam and reservoir were not built because of concerns over the siltation problem, which Superintendent Krueger had mentioned back 1959. In the 1970s, speculation over water impoundments needed for the proposed Intermountain Power Project coal-burning power plant caused the Aldridge site to be re-examined. While the dam was still seen as a good idea, it was determined that a reservoir immediately behind the dam would only last from five to 25 years before it was choked with silt. [79]

Sulphur Creek Water Rights: 1966-1978

The 1935 Bates Decree did not address tributary streams, such as Sulphur Creek (often called Sand Creek), Pleasant Creek, and Oak Creek, which run through Capitol Reef National Park.

There are three authorized users of Sulphur Creek water. The National Park Service has priority claim based on Aaron E. Holt's affidavit signed June 14, 1945, stating he had begun yearly irrigation of 40 acres in 1902 from a diversion on Sulphur Creek behind the current visitor center. Holt maintained that he diverted .25 to 1.5 cubic feet per second of water as needed. An accompanying affidavit from Wayne County resident, attorney, and former water commissioner Silas Tanner verified Holt's claim. The affidavit also noted that the water had been consistently used by all of Holt's successors in interest up through Dean R. Brimhall. Since the National Park Service acquired the land and Sulphur Creek water rights from Brimhall in 1961, Capitol Reef's priority claim to Sulphur Creek water is 1902. [80] Capitol Reef National Park filed a diligence rights claim to 1.0 c.f.s. of Sulphur Creek water based on this 1902 priority in 1973. [81]

The other two Sulphur Creek users have 1926 and 1927 priority water rights. At the time Capitol Reef acquired its Sulphur Creek rights, Rulon Jones owned at least the 1927 priority. This 1.0 c.f.s. claim was used to water hay fields near the junction of Sulphur and Sand Creeks, approximately seven miles west of Fruita. The other water rights claim was to 3.0 c.f.s. of Sand Creek water with a 1926 priority right. This water was used to irrigate fields and water livestock on Sand Creek (tributary of Sulphur Creek) north of Torrey and west of Utah Highway 24. By the early 1970s, these claims were purchased by Salt Lake City attorney Ralph Lowe. The upper 3.0 c.f.s. claim was held jointly by rancher Don Pace. [82]

Conflict over Sulphur Creek water use has occurred on two significant occasions. In the very dry year of 1966, Rulon Jones irrigated his hay fields at the junction of Sulphur and Sand Creeks, causing the stream below him to run completely dry. Consequently, Capitol Reef was unable to irrigate portions of the Brimhall life estate or water the area around the visitor center. Jones was visited twice by National Park Service personnel, including Superintendent Harry P. Linder in the company of Water Commissioner Thomas Chappell. At this second meeting, Jones was cooperative and stated that he simply used the water so that it would not go to waste before drying up short of Fruita. Jones agreed to let water down Sulphur Creek to prove his point. However, only days after this meeting, the area had a heavy rain, the water shortage was over, and the dispute ended as quickly as it had begun. [83]

Then in 1976, Ralph Lowe, the new owner of both upriver claims, leased property to Rulon Hunt. Hunt once again diverted Sulphur Creek and left Fruita dry. Superintendent William F. (Franklin) Wallace wrote a strong protest letter to Hunt, warning that if the diversion did not stop, the F.B.I. would be notified. [84] A letter from the Bureau of Land Management district manager, on whose land the new diversion ditch was located, also warned Hunt to "cease and desist." [85]

Apparently, the problem persisted through 1976 and into 1977. In April 1977, Wallace once again visited the diversion site and found a full ditch running onto the property owned by Ralph Lowe, causing Sulphur Creek to run dry at Fruita. Within the week, Superintendent Wallace signed an affidavit stating that an illegal diversion of Sulphur Creek water was causing "serious and irreparable harm to vegetation within Capitol Reef National Park." [86] This affidavit was needed before a preliminary injunction could be filed by the U.S. Justice Department against property owner Lowe.

In August 1977, a representative from the state engineer's office convened a hearing in the county seat of Loa. Representing the National Park Service were Superintendent Wallace, Regional Chief of Water Rights William McKeel, the regional solicitor, and two park rangers. Also at the hearing were "a number of local farmers as witnesses for Mr. Lowe." [87] This hearing had all the makings of another confrontation between local residents and the park. Conflict was averted, however, when both sides agreed to share the water equally. Both Lowe and Wallace agreed to install measuring devices at their points of diversion, while the National Park Service would construct a dividing box at the confluence of Sand and Sulphur Creeks. This compromise was to last until a final determination of water rights was made by either the courts or the Utah state engineer. [88]

By 1978, a permanent solution was reached by all parties. Since everyone concurred that there was simply not enough water in Sand and Sulphur Creeks to accommodate everyone's rights, the three users volunteered to share all water through a seven-day rotation system. This system was devised by Ralph Lowe, Don Pace, and Superintendent Wallace, and was to be monitored by the Utah State Division of Water Rights. [89]

While the National Park Service clearly had priority claim to its share of Sulphur Creek, it determined that compromise was better than confrontation. In this case, the solution seems to have left everyone, if not happy, at least agreeable.

Pleasant Creek Water Rights

When Capitol Reef National Monument was expanded in 1969 and made into a national park in December 1971, about five miles of Pleasant Creek and four miles of Oak Creek were included within Capitol Reef's boundaries. Between 1974 and 1978, the National Park Service purchased all of Lurton and Alice Knee's Sleeping Rainbow Ranch on Pleasant Creek, allowing a 13.13- acre life estate for the Knees. This transaction brought all of the Knees' accumulated water rights under the control of the National Park Service. [90] Those rights included:

1) .925 c.f.s. diligent right of Pleasant Creek water with a priority claim of 1899 (Thisbee Hanks's homestead affidavit). This was based on 36.98 acres of irrigated fields and watering of 50 cattle and 20 horses.

2) .527 c.f.s. accumulated rights to three intermittent draws draining off Miners Mountain to the west. This water was used to help irrigate the 36.98 acres and water those 50 cattle and 20 horses.

3) .02 of .237 c.f.s. from a spring that was used for domestic consumption. It is unknown if the remainder of this right is what was retained by the Knees as part of their life estate.

4) Unspecified amounts of Pleasant Creek and Miners Mountain water needed to water up to 50 cattle and 20 horses. [91]

Oak Creek Water Rights

The 16.09 c.f.s. of upper Pleasant Creek and all Oak Creek water are claimed by Sandy Ranch, which has a priority date of 1913. This was when William Bowns began to build reservoirs on Boulder Mountain (Torgerson, Oak Creek, and Bowns Reservoirs) and divert water through the Waterpocket Fold via Oak Creek Canyon. At the eastern end of the canyon, Bowns and his son, Leo, constructed a 45-foot-high by 106-foot-long rock and cement dam. Water was then diverted into a canal, flume, and series of ditches to water private lands owned by several succeeding interests, which are usually called the Sandy Ranches. The Oak Creek dam was improved in 1955 and again in 1964 or 1965, because of siltation behind the dam and an increased demand for water. [92]

According to Sandy Ranch records, the ranch owns the following water rights:

1) 16.09 c.f.s of upper Pleasant Creek under Certificate 2313;

2) 2.74 c.f.s. from an unnamed tributary of Oak Creek under Certificate 2313;

3) 9.0 c.f.s. of Oak Creek water under Certificate 5045. [93]

Irrigation System Improvements: 1970s

The most significant event concerning water rights in Capitol Reef during the 1970s was the 1973-75 installation of underground pipes and a new diversion system that significantly improved the irrigation of Fruita's orchards. A cement siltation-control pond was constructed near the location where the old upper ditch used to divert the Fremont River. From here, water was pumped as needed through various pipes to the orchards. Once the water reached the orchards and fields, it flowed through the old, existing ditches to flood irrigate the ground. A pipe sprinkler system was also installed to water the picnic grounds and the Jorgensen pasture, which lies across from the road from the Pendleton barn. Although large sections of the old main ditches were abandoned, most of the original irrigation system remained intact. These changes watered more area while eliminating the need for time-consuming, labor intensive ditch cleaning. [94]

Water Rights During the 1980s and 1990s

During the 1980s and 1990s, Capitol Reef National Park managers attempted to solidify existing water rights and began studying all water resources within park boundaries.

1983 Adjudication

General adjudication of all water rights on the western half of the Colorado River Basin began in 1983. This adjudication resulted in a reduction of the park's share of Fremont River water from 8.0 to 7.65 c.f.s. The reasons for the reduction are unclear, but evidently, the "missing" .35 c.f.s. were associated with the Gifford property, purchased in 1969. This conclusion is derived from the fact that "Statements of Water User's Claims" were filed in December 1983 for water rights associated with the former Fruita claims, the Sulphur Creek claim, and the Pleasant Creek claims, except for the .35 c.f.s. believed to have been retained by Dewey Gifford. [95]

As part of this same general adjudication, the National Park Service claimed additional water rights throughout the rest of Capitol Reef National Park. Since grazing was still practiced throughout the park, an additional 3.62 c.f.s. could be claimed due to the over 50 permit holders and their 2,415 head of livestock using the park's various intermittent streams, springs, and waterpockets. The 64 water claims that are mentioned in all Capitol Reef "Statements for Management" from 1984 to 1993 are apparently based on this reasoning. [96]

North District Water Rights

In the early 1900s, several ditches were dug along the eastern flanks of Thousand Lake Mountain to carry spring runoff to the Last Chance (Baker) Ranch. The most extensive of these ditches ran from Deep Creek Lake toward the Baker Ranch. Another ditch trapped snowmelt from McDonald Basin and then drained into the upper Deep Creek ditch. These ditches left many of the upper Waterpocket Fold drainages dry, may have eliminated several riparian communities, and likely left at least one homestead on Bullberry Creek without water. [97]

In 1983, Fishlake National Forest officials determined that the ditches were no longer being used or maintained by the Jeffery family, which then owned the Baker Ranch. The U.S. Forest Service therefore terminated the Jefferys' water transport permits and breached the ditches in several places. This caused the spring runoff to drain directly into the Waterpocket Fold for the first time in 80 years. Superintendent Derek Hambly hoped that the water now entering the Deep Creek drainage would flow into the South Desert and create a new riparian environment. [98]

Water Quality Research

Prior to the 1980s, there was little water quality research or sampling for any of the park's streams, springs, or waterpockets. One of the first extensive investigations was completed during 1981 for the Fremont River and Sulphur and Pleasant Creeks. This research documented some gross beta radiation in the Fremont River, apparently caused by man-made agents. The investigators recommended extensive monitoring to ensure that beta particles were not entering the culinary water supply, and to lay the groundwork for further water quality research. [99]

Over the next decade, an elaborate water quality research program was initiated at Capitol Reef. An aquatic biologist and a full-time water quality technician were hired, and both in-house and professionally contracted research projects were undertaken. These have concentrated mostly on the Fremont River and on the ecologically unique waterpockets, or tinajas, in the southern part of the park. These extensive research projects should clarify the actual, as opposed to the assumed, impacts that 100 years of extensive grazing and irrigation farming have had on the water supply of the Waterpocket Fold country. [100] Notably, however, both positions were vacated in 1994 and still were not filled as of 1998, due to lack of funding.

In the summer of 1991, during routine treatment by the Utah Division of Water Resources of the upper Fremont River to eradicate whirling disease in trout, an entire barrel of rotenone was accidentally released upstream from the park. Utah Division of Water Resources officials then dumped large quantities of potassium into the river to neutralize the rotenone. The chemicals turned the Fremont purple for miles and killed virtually all fish and macroinvertebrates in the lower Fremont (including that portion within Capitol Reef). Long-term effects of this spill on the health of the Fremont River are unknown. [101]

Fremont River Dam: 1986-1991

In 1986, the Wayne County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct a dam and hydroelectric power plant on the Fremont River south of Torrey. A 35,000-acre foot reservoir would be used for water storage and recreation and a penstock would divert the Fremont River to a power plant near Capitol Reef's west boundary. Numerous federal water and riparian habitat reports were initiated in response to this proposal. [102]

This was not the first time that a dam and reservoir had been proposed near Torrey. As early as the 1940s, the Bureau of Reclamation had identified the site as a possible water storage and power plant locale. [103] Then, during the height of the Intermountain Power Plant (IPP) project in the 1970s, one proposal called for a dam on the Fremont River near Torrey to store water as needed for the power plant and agriculture downstream. [104]

The National Park Service actively opposed the Fremont dam, probably because it was to be located upstream from Capitol Reef. From the outset, agency personnel filed protests and comments to ensure adequate consideration of the effects of such a dam on water quality and riparian habitat within a national park. [105]

By the end of 1989, the dam's supporters had completed preliminary environmental work and prepared to file for a license application with the FERC. Based on extensive research by Capitol Reef's resource management staff, park managers criticized the preliminary findings of the WCWCD. These critical comments, with similar objections offered by the Bureau of Land Management, were supposed to be attached to the application but were left out by the project proponents. The omission of the federal agency comments caused the FERC to reject the application. Instead, the regulatory commission extended the preliminary permit for another three years, during which time the WCWCD had to re-submit the entire proposal. [106]

By the end of 1991, it appeared that lack of funding and other roadblocks would doom the Fremont River dam project, but proponents had not given up. [107] In June 1992, a hearing to extend the permit was held in Loa. The National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the leading environmental organizations all opposed any deadline extension. The FERC eventually concurred, thereby killing the Fremont River dam project. [108]

Dam proponents were disappointed, but soon turned their attention to an alternative site near Caineville, east of the park and near the old Aldridge dam site. They hoped that this proposal, downstream of Capitol Reef, would meet with less resistance. [109] This issue has yet to be resolved.

The threat of a dam above the park spurred National Park Service and BLM officials to seek Wild and Scenic River status for the Fremont River gorge between Torrey and Fruita. Like the latest dam proposal, action on this matter is still pending.


Compared to other resource issues at Capitol Reef National Park, water rights issues have had an unusually quiet history. The isolation of the area and sparse population along the river have enabled most of those who did use the Fremont River through the Waterpocket Fold to take as much water as needed. Consequently, water use was rarely monitored between 1935, when the Bates Decree adjudicated rights on the lower Fremont River, and the 1960s. Since that time there have been minor disputes over the park's water, but these could be resolved without damaging park resources.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002