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Environmental Groups Call For Investigation Into Kane County Water Project

A view of a field near the proposed site for the Cove Reservoir in Kane County.
Courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service
A view of a field near the proposed site for the Cove Reservoir in Kane County.

Seven environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the proposed Cove Reservoir in Kane County. The project’s planners say it will dam the East Fork of the Virgin River for agricultural use in Kane and Washington Counties.

But environmental groups claim that’s misleading. Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said in surveying the land, his group found the water will be used in a developing, municipal area.

“What’s in this agricultural area are a number of subdivisions, that's not an agricultural purpose,” Frankel said in a press conference Tuesday. “It's not OK to pretend like this is [for] agriculture when it is not.”

Around 75% of the project’s $30 million price tag will be covered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is a federal program that works to conserve agricultural land. The Cove Reservoir is planned to store water for irrigation in summer months when water is low. Around 1,100 acres of water will be for Kane County and 4,900 acres will be for Washington County.

The letter calling for the investigation is signed by Frankel’s group, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Great Basin Water Network and others. They’re requesting an investigation to see if NRCS staff were pressured into the project.

“We as Utahns deserve honesty and truth in local government,” Frankel said. “Just because they're a water district does not mean they have the right to interpret federal law on their own. This is not OK.”

Mike Noel, the executive director of Kane County Water Conservancy District, disputes the accusations that the district misled the NRCS about the plans for the water. He said this is an effort to prolong the process and force an environmental impact statement.

“[The environmental groups] want to try to generate a false controversy so that they can make this become an EIS, which would then take us on probably another million dollars or more and several more years,” Noel said.

Karry Rathje is a spokesperson for Washington County Water Conservancy District, which is a cooperating agency on the project. She said Frankel’s group is against all water projects in the area.

“This project does exactly what [the Utah Rivers Council] was telling us that we should do, which is develop our local resources instead of look to other projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline,” Rathje said. “So there's a lot of inconsistency that we're seeing, and it's a little disingenuous.”

The project is currently in the environmental analysis phase and the public comment period closed in December.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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