For the Deseret News
If water is the life blood of the West, then the recently rehabilitated Green River Diversion Dam is a major artery that helps distribute that blood to the Green River community that heavily relies on it.
Following years of planning and six months of construction, the $7.7 million project has restored a secure source of irrigation water to a region so beholding to a single natural resource.
The Tusher diversion structure was initially built in the early 1900s to more efficiently divert water to irrigation canals that were originally constructed by early pioneers out of rocks, boulders and shrubs. The dam also is the site of a hydroelectric power plant that dates back to the early 1900s. The canals and the hydropower all contribute to a quality of life and economic stability of the larger community of Green River, Utah.
The completion of such an important project must be credited to the coordinated effort of some 30 local, state and federal entities such as: Green River City, USDA-NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service), the Green River Conservation District and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, to name just a few.
The decision to repair the dam came after a 2010-11 flood event on the Green that caused chipping of concrete, undercutting of the downstream foundation sediments and cracks that could lead to structural failure. Funding for the project came from the USDA-NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program that responds to natural disasters.
Agriculture generates $20 million to the economies of Emery and Grand counties, with a large portion of that revenue tied to water from the Green River. More than 5,300 acres of farmland are irrigated with water that is diverted from the river thanks to the structure. Green River melons are well known in several Western states, and are a favorite of consumers at grocery stores and farmers markets. Aside from melons, alfalfa, corn and livestock also thrive on Green River water.
The dam includes an improved fish ladder system to protect endangered fish species. It also includes a new boat passage structure that allows rafts and boats to pass through, thereby improving safety for boaters.
Wildlife and habitat importance
The diversion-structure restoration design considers five federally listed threatened and endangered fish species. Currently, the Green River harbors the most robust population and two known, active spawning locations of the Colorado pikeminnow; two known population centers of the humpback chub; two known, active spawning locations of the razerback sucker and populations of stocked individuals of razorback sucker and bonytail. Restoration of the diversion structure includes carefully designed fish passage and electronic monitoring components that will provide long-term observation and tracking for these important species.
The 30 miles from Flaming Gorge to the Colorado River is the most popular section of the Green River for both boaters and anglers. Every year thousands navigate the river for its scenery and ideal fishing conditions. According to Nathan Fey, stewardship director with American Whitewater, the Tusher diversion was the last impediment to the boating community as they made their way toward Utah’s Canyonlands. In the past, boaters would simply avoid the diversion because of the unsafe hydraulic conditions the obstacle produced.
The original dam is an example of pioneer ingenuity, and the refurbished structure modernizes this essential part of the Green River community. Never before had such a dam been built in the West. Due to its unique design, the diversion project has been determined eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places due to its design and importance to the establishment of Green River.
The completion of the rehabilitation project is a cause for celebration and acknowledgment of the cooperation of so many interested partners and its importance to the community.
LuAnn Adams is the commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Dave Brown is the state conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service.