I went back to a place that has been important to me and my family all of my life. I have always considered Ferron Reservoir to be one of the most beautiful places in the state.
When I visited it the other day, I realized it has gone from being the most beautiful to the ugliest place on the mountain. It got this way through a joint effort of federal and state agencies, aided by environmental groups.
When I was a child, the reservoir was owned by the Ferron Canal and Irrigation Company. They built the reservoir in the early 1900s and used it to provide irrigation water for the crops in the valley.
The reservoir would fill with spring runoff and remain full until they opened the outlet so the water could run down to the valley. It was never as nice after the water was drained but the fishing was good so it was still a very nice place.
There was a small resort with cabins and boats for rent. It was a favorite destination for Emery, Carbon and Sanpete county residents. Its reputation spread and people from outside the area came to enjoy the facilities and the beauty of the location. The fishing was always good with some big fish being taken every summer.
The forest service oversaw all operations on the forest, including grazing, timber harvest, and recreation. One ranger was in charge with a few people hired for the summer. There was a sawmill where lumber was harvested, primarily for local consumption. A few lucky people built cabins on the mountainside above the reservoir.
This rhythm between the mountains and the people in the valley continued for a long time. The reservoir provided water for culinary use and for irrigation. The mountains provided grazing for livestock and for deer and elk. The timber and sawmill provided lumber for houses and other buildings.
The reservoir and the mountain provided recreation-fishing and camping in the summer and hunting in the fall. During the winter months the mountain rested and stored the snow pack for the next year.
Millsite Reservoir was built in the late 1960s and Ferron Reservoir was transferred to the Division of Wildlife Resources to be developed as a high quality sports fishery. They planned to leave the reservoir full year round so it would not be drained every summer. It was expected to produce some trophy sized fish. They even obtained money to improve the dam and raise the level of the reservoir. During this construction they discovered what the people of Ferron already knew, the dam was built over some natural springs so water was coming through the dam.
About this time Quail Creek Dam in Washington County failed and the state dam safety program was established. All dams in the state were inspected. Dams located upstream from communities received special attention because potential threats to downstream.
When they inspected the dam at Ferron Reservoir and saw the leaks, they decided the dam should be repaired again. DWR spent another $150,000 to rebuild the dam and when they were finished, the dam still leaked. They went through the process again, excavating in front of the dam, and doing extensive repairs. When they were finished, the dam still leaked.
The dam safety folks decided that because of these leaks, and because of its location upstream from Ferron, the dam was unsafe so they cut a large hole in the dam and reduced the level to about one third full. That is where it sits today. Instead of a beautiful mountain lake, we have a small pond surrounded by extensive dry mud flats covered with weeds. It's not much to look at but it sure is safe.
The structure of the dam has been improved and it is sound. There is little chance of failure and no need to hold the reservoir at such a low level. If the dam did fail, we might not be aware of it for several days. The flood would go down Ferron Creek, through isolated canyons, until being absorbed by Millsite Reservoir. The maximum impact would be to increase the level of Millsite a few inches.
To the south of the almost empty reservoir is a hillside covered with dead trees. The trees were killed by bark beetles several years ago, as were the trees on thousands of acres on the Manti-LaSal forest, and most other forests in Utah. The forest service tried to issue a timber sale so the dead trees could be harvested and the area replanted.
An environmental group, Forest Guardians, protested and filed lawsuits to prevent the harvest. They were successful in stopping the sale and were able to keep all sales in the state tied up in court until the dead trees no longer have any value.
Ferron Reservoir area is only one small area in the thousands of acres in the state now covered with dead trees. It would take an extremely smooth talking environmentalist to convince me that these dead trees are an improvement over a green living forest.
We are now left with a mountain covered with dead trees which in addition to being ugly are an extreme fire hazard. Our grandchildren will be looking at the same dead trees. They will be asking themselves why we did not take care of them when the disaster happened. If the trees had been harvested, a regrowth of the forest would be underway by now.
Remember the old resort at the reservoir? It has gone into bankruptcy, the cabins are being removed, the old lodge is being torn down, and the area is to be reclaimed. There are rumors that since the lodge was built many years ago, it contains asbestos, so now the EPA may be involved. Removal will be extremely expensive so the remnants may be there for a long time, maybe forever.
Wouldn't it be nice if this one time our "resource management agencies" and environmental groups would work together with the local people, using common sense, and let Ferron Reservoir regain its place on the list of beautiful places? Replace the gap in the dam and let the reservoir be full year round, remove all the dead trees, clean up the old resort, and make things right again. Please.