Water deal quenches many thirsts

  • The Virgin River as it enters Zion National Park

    Tom Brownold
  In a triumph of negotiation over litigation, local, state and federal officials in Utah recently ended a decade-long dispute over water near Zion National Park.

By swapping two potential dam sites above the park for a new one below it, negotiators ensured water both for the national park and for local faucets. Most importantly, says Zion Superintendent Donald Falvey, the deal keeps Virgin River water flowing in perpetuity.

The proposed dam sites on the North and East forks of the Virgin River would have altered the natural river flow, changing the park's habitat and the erosional processes that caused the canyons in the first place, says Falvey. The alternative, a large dam and reservoir in Sand Hollow, Utah, will supply water to Washington County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, without threatening the park. Park officials also consented to limited future water development north of Zion.

Jerry Olds, an engineer in Utah's Division of Water Rights, says the water deal is the first time Utah has formally recognized and specified an amount for a national park's reserved water rights.

*Sarah Dry

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