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Ultimate Phase Water Rights Stored at Flaming Gorge Reservoir

June 03, 2010
by John Weisheit


The story of a paper water right looking for wet water projects and the billions that will be spent to chase it.

SUMMARY: The 40-year plan for water right 41-3479 (Flaming Gorge Water Right)

In 1996, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) assigned the majority of approved Utah Water Right 41-3479 (A30414d) (Flaming Gorge Water Right) to the Utah Board of Water Resources (Board). This right allowed the storage of 500,000 acre-feet of water in Flaming Gorge Reservoir and was to be used for the Ultimate Phase of the Central Utah Project.

After the decision was made to not build the Ultimate Phase and after discussions with the state of Utah, the BOR transferred the majority of the right (447,500 acre-feet of diversion and 158,800 acre-feet of depletion) to the Board.

See: Market Assessment of Flaming Gorge Reservoir by Reclamation in 2007; the total storage in Flaming Gorge Reservoir for consumptive use by Wyoming, Colorado & Utah is only 165,000 acre-feet per year.

See also: Memo from Eric Kuhn to Joint West Slope Risk Study Update (2016). The upper basin states are developing contingency planning documents to preserve hydropower production at Lake Powell. One strategy includes evacuating a prescribed amount of reservoir water from Flaming Gorge Dam.

The Board desired to make this water available to Utah water users within the Colorado River Basin that could put the water to beneficial use. The Board went through a process of receiving applications for this water, approving those applications, then segregating and transferring portions of the right to those applicants. The applicants were given a time-frame for developing the water, and water not developed within that time would revert to the Board.

As part of this allocation process, the Board set aside 73,000 acre-feet of the Flaming Gorge Water Right in anticipation of the future Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP). In 2006, the Utah Legislature passed the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act (73-28 UCA) which authorizes and directs the Board of Water Resources to develop the LPP. This project will divert water at Lake Powell, upstream of Glen Canyon Dam, and will deliver it to southwest Utah. The project is needed to supply the water needs of the growing population and provide for economic development.

The Board has filed a Request for Extension of Time to File Proof of Beneficial Use for the unused portion of the Flaming Gorge Water Right as well as for other portions of the right that have reverted, or will revert to the Board and to the Lake Powell Pipeline, including the following water rights:

           RIGHT       DIVERSION

If the extensions are granted, the Board will request that all segregated rights be consolidated back to Water Right 41-3479. The water represented by these rights will be delivered by the Board, through the LPP, to supply the municipal and industrial water needs of Kane County Water Conservancy District, Washington County Water Conservancy District and Central Iron County Water Conservancy District. Iron County has since dropped out of the Lake Powell Pipeline, claiming the project was financially burdensome.

The Board has also agreed to subordinate their Flaming Gorge Water Rights to the BOR's water right for the Central Utah Project, and to the portions of the Flaming Gorge Water Rights that were transferred to the Uintah and Duchesne County Water Conservancy Districts for use in the Uintah Basin, subject to the districts also subordinating their rights to the BOR's water right for the Central Utah Project.


According to Utah law (Title 73, Chapter 21 Ute Indian Water Compact), and in perpetuity, the Ute Indian Tribe and others can deplete 248,943 acre-feet per annum from a total diversion of 471,035 acre-feet per annum. This water compact is more fully set out in the "Tabulation of Ute Indian Water Rights," which is on file with the Utah State Engineer. The oldest priority date of this appropriation is October 3, 1861; there are other tribal priority rights that are in the 1880s.

See: Uinta Ouray Ute NationTabulation of Ute Indian Water Rights & 1973 Interior Press Release; Why the projects were never built.


This project will require a federal contract for a water release of 86,249 acre-feet per year from Flaming Gorge Dam. Also a NEPA document and a Biological Opinion.

  • Water right documents for City of St. George (89-1559): CLICK HERE
  • Water right documents for Washington County Conservancy District (89-1525):  CLICK HERE


Green River Pumping Project

This project requires a federal contract for a water release from Flaming Gorge Dam. The diversion is limited to 10,000 acre-feet per year and for a maximum time-period of five years. After the initial five years the project can enter a 40-year contract with Reclamation, which is the maximum time-frame allowed.


Potash development near Cresent Junction

The project requires 20,000 acre-feet per year to be financially viable. This project's groundwater diversion is limited to 5,000 acre-feet and requires a groundwater monitoring program, so as not to infringe on the springs in Arches National Park. The remaining 15,000 acre-feet would come from the Green River. The State Engineer's Order states that it is not necessary to apply for a federal contract for water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The letter of concern from Reclamation stated it woud be wise and prudent to initiate a federal contract.

Tar sands development near PR Springs and Main Canyon

This project requires 360 acre-feet per year and the production water comes from groundwater; if additional water needs are required they would be delivered by trucks using water from the Green River. The state engineer's Order requires the company to apply for a federal contract with Reclamation. An Order from Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining requires a groundwater monitoring plan.

Green River City Nuclear Power Plant (Blue Castle Holdings)

The point of diversion for water to produce steam would be transferred to Emery county. The holders of the water rights are in San Juan and Kane counties. The diversion is 53,600 acre-feet. Blue Castle Holdings claims a federal contract for a water release from Flaming Gorge Dam is not required. Reclamation issued a letter of consern that a federal contract would be wise and prudent. This water right was litigated and  Judge Harmon demoted the Kane County priority date to be inferior to the priority date of the Central Utah Project. The priority date of San Juan County is 2000, which is vulnerable to curtailment should shortages ever be declared. Judge Harmon also required a federal review of the withdrawal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered fish species. This will ensure that a federal contract with Reclamation will indeed be required. A NEPA document and a Biological Opinion will be required.

Background Information:

Environmental Impact Statements

Utah Division of Water Rights


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