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Underwater Upgrade Coming For Deer Creek

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Deer Creek DWR

Work will start next year at Deer Creek Reservoir on a $60 million infrastructure upgrade to continue the useful life of a facility that channels water for nearly half the state of Utah.     It's planned as an innovative underwater project.

The Provo River Water Users Association, which manages the reservoir, got some good news recently.   They obtained a low-interest loan for $40 million from the Utah Water Resources Board, to be paid off over 30 years.

The remaining $20 million will be raised by the Provo River Association, according to Joel Williams, who is assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

`        Williams said that upgrading Deer Creek, a reservoir west of Heber completed in 1941, is critical when the state and its water resources are facing an unprecedented drought year.     

          “And so some of that infrastructure that’s in place, like the outlet tunnel, that allows the water to flow through the reservoir and be used, is reaching its design life.   The gate, the valve, the manufactured parts are no longer available.   It’s kinda reached the end of its useful life and it’s time to replace it.  And so when you think about how you do get in there and do that, when it’s underwater, typically with a dam you would maybe wait for a low-water year and then drain the reservoir, and then have it be empty for a couple of seasons perhaps.   You do all of that work to replace it.   When you have a million and a half people depending on Deer Creek Reservoir for part of their water supply—we’re talking about up to 50 percent of the population of the state gets some of their water from this reservoir—draining isn’t really an option.”

Therefore, he said, most of the work will be done underwater, while the operation of the reservoir continues.

“Deer Creek is an earth-fill dam.   They piled up clay and rock and sand and different materials to form the structure of it.  And that dam itself should last forever.  And they take into account designing for earthquakes, so that it could survive the anticipated 7.2 earthquake that could hit this valley.   And so you look at, we have over 300 large dams like this across the state, and making sure that those structures themselves are safe and are gonna stay in place.  But then they all have an outlet, a low-level outlet where you’re supposed to be able to release water, for use downstream, just maintaining river flows.”

Williams said the work starts in 2022 and could take up to three years.   He said recreationists won’t notice much impact, except for the presence of truck activity, barges or staging areas.

The upgrade to the reservoir will also help the water managers safely remove any infestation of quagga mussels.   The invasive species, which can clog up and encrust boat engines and shorelines, has appeared in Lake Powell, requiring decontamination procedures for boats visiting there.

He said the discovery of a dead mussel at Deer Creek led to three years of monitoring and inspection.

Ultimately, Williams said Deer Creek is important for the state’s long-term future.     By the year 2060, the reservoir could be part of the water supply for three-quarters of the state.

Meanwhile, for the short term, Williams said they’re optimistic due to the recent rainfall.     And they’re hoping for a rebound this winter, since snowpack supplies 95 percent of Utah’s water.

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