Officials start detailed environmental study, host public meeting for Cove Reservoir project

ST. GEORGE — A new scoping period is underway for a proposed reservoir in Kane County that would be built upstream of the East Fork of the Virgin River. As a part of this scoping period, federal officials are hosting a virtual public meeting for the project Wednesday evening.

Proposed area for the Cove Reservoir in Kane County west of Orderville, Kane County, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, St. George News

The scoping is part of a new, more detailed environmental study being conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after hundreds of public comments concerning the project were received last year.

As previously reported by St. George News, the proposed Cove Reservoir, which was originally opened to public comment in late 2020, is slated to be a 6,000-acre-foot reservoir built west of Orderville.

The reservoir would divert water from the East Fork of the Virgin River during the spring and then be used to augment low river flows during the low-level summer months, which officials say would be a benefit to wildlife dependent on the river.

The water would also be used for farmland in Kane and Washington counties, as well as potentially go toward municipal and recreational uses, and a hydroelectric component to the project has also been proposed.

“We feel like it’s a good benefit,” Mike Noel, general manager of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, previously told St. George News.

In this file photo, a Washington City farmer tills ground in preparation for crop planting, St. George Utah, Nov. 8, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is overseeing the project, with the Kane County Water Conservancy District as a sponsor. The Washington County Water Conservancy District is also cosponsoring the project as the county holds water rights related to it.

Karry Rathje, of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told St. George News in a call Monday that at least 500 acre-feet of the water from the project would be sent to the Hurricane Valley Irrigation District for farmland use.

The project website states that in Kane County, the construction of the reservoir would provide additional water storage as well as “other improvements within the existing Mt. Carmel, Glendale, and Orderville Irrigation Systems, as needed or identified.”

Concern had previously been raised by opponents of the Cove Reservoir – namely the Utah Rivers Council – that county water managers weren’t being honest about how the water would be used. The conservation group and its supporters claimed the water coming to Washington County would be used more for municipal and not agriculture use.

A map showing the general location of the proposed area for the Cove Reservoir in Kane County, Utah. Alternative sites are also being considered | Photo courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The Utah Rivers Council asked the federal government to investigate the issue as it could impact how much taxpayers may be paying for the reservoir project.

The USDA is considering partially funding the project, which is projected to run between $30 million and $35 million. If water from the project is primarily used for agriculture, the federal agency will fund up to 75% of it. If it turns out its mainly for municipal use instead, that funding drops to 30%.

Washington County water managers have called the Utah River Council’s allegations meritless.

Thus far, no news of the USDA investigating the proposed water use has been announced.

“Utah taxpayers deserve honesty and transparency,” Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said previously.

While the Utah Rivers Council and its supporters expressed disappointment at no investigation being launched, they were nonetheless pleased to see the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service decide to put the Cove Reservoir project through a more detailed environmental study.

“After careful project review and consideration of comments received during the Draft Plan-EA (environmental assessment) comment period, the NRCS decided it appropriate to initiate the preparation of a Watershed Plan – Environmental Impact Statement (Plan-EIS) in order to analyze the proposed project in greater detail and to explore any other potentially viable alternatives,” the USDA states on project website.

Because a new study is underway, a new scoping period has been initiated.

The Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah, June 4, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The environmental impact study is much more detailed than the initial environmental assessment conducted for the project. It also stands to be more expensive and take longer to complete, Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, previously told St. George News.

“It’s frustrating now that we’re going to have to spend possibly millions of dollars to create a bunch of paperwork to say that (the reservoir) is a good idea,” Renstrom said.

Virtual meeting and how to comment

The new scoping period opened Oct. 7 and is currently under way. An end date has not yet been announced.

As a part of the scoping period, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is hosting a virtual meeting over Zoom on Wednesday from 6-7:30 p.m. People can access the Zoom meeting here. The meeting ID is 891 2373 1558.

Individuals can also mail in their comments on the comment form provided here.

Additional information on the Cove Reservoir project can be on the project website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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