Diverse partners work to solve Provo River low flow issues

Facebook among contributors to help secure enough water to support fish and recreation in one of the state’s most popular rivers

                                                                                                               June 30, 2020


Jordan Nielson, Trout Unlimited, Jordan.nielson@tu.org – 801-850-1221

Michael Mills, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, mikem@cuwcd.com – 801-226-7132

Mike Slater, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, michaelslater@utah.gov – 801-367-5941

Melanie Roe, Facebook, melanieroe@fb.com

Mark Holden, Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, mholden@usbr.gov – 801-524-3146

Reed Murray, United State Department of the Interior, RRMurray@usbr.gov – 801-379-1237


PROVO CANYON — A unique group of partners from state agencies to conservation nonprofits to a corporation have collaborated to solve an annual low water issue on the lower Provo River. Both the fishery and everyone that uses the river will benefit. Anglers and wildlife management agencies have been concerned about the low flows for years and applaud the solution.

“Keeping water flowing for fish and wildlife is absolutely critical to Utah’s communities and ecosystems,” said Edward Palmieri, director of sustainability at Facebook, which broke ground on its data center in Eagle Mountain, Utah in 2018. “This unique water stewardship project on the Lower Provo River is an excellent solution to improve flows. Facebook is proud to have partnered with all these organizations and the community to make this project possible.”

In 2018 water managers on the Provo River had to cut water right deliveries in half due to extended drought. Water flows dropped to 3.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) for 1.2 miles between the Murdock Diversion and the Timpanogos Diversion. Low flows result in warmer water and reduced oxygen levels that can be fatal to the wild brown and rainbow trout populations in this popular fishery. Water rights on this section of the Provo date back to the early 1900s and meeting those rights often dictates the amount of water flowing in the river.

Anglers, including members of the Utah County Alpine Anglers Trout Unlimited Chapter, reached out to officials to see what could be done. A temporary solution was found in 2018, but the call went out for more partners and possible long-term solutions.

“The Lower Provo River is one of Utah’s premier fisheries and is fished by nearly 7,000 anglers per mile per year,” said Chris Crockett, Central Region Aquatics Program Manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ Habitat Council and Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council recognize the value of maintaining flows within this unique stretch of river and are excited to contribute to its long term health.”

For over 100 years, water from the Provo River has been used for power generation at the Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant. The Power Plant, now in federal ownership, was recently reconstructed by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and Department of the Interior and continues to generate electricity for the local communities. Central Utah Water Conservancy District outlined a potential solution: allowing some water to remain in the river instead of diverting it for hydropower generation. Facebook’s commitment, through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, will help ensure 7.15 cfs remains in the river during the hottest months of the year for 10 years. Flows dedicated to this project began June 25.

“We are excited to be a part of this unique partnership to improve the health of the Provo River. Part of having a safe and secure water supply is addressing the environmental issues that arise from the delivery of that water. We appreciate the partners that have come together to find solutions to the needs of the Provo River,” said Michael Mills, Central Utah Water Conservancy District biologist.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Reclamation and Mitigation Commission also contributed funding to boost flows by an additional 12 cfs during the inaugural year and throughout the 10 years of the project. The partnership, with combined funding from Facebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Utah Reclamation and Mitigation Commission, raised approximately $750,000 to secure the flows. 

Trout Unlimited staff, in collaboration with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, reached an agreement with United States Department of the Interior and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District for 10 years of flows in the Provo’s Murdock to Timpanogos section. The Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission is working on a similar complementary agreement with Interior and the Water Conservancy District. 

“The Mitigation Commission is pleased with the collaboration among the various parties that worked together to make this happen. We realize this isn’t intended to be the final solution to this problem, but together with water rights purchased by the Mitigation Commission, over the next 10 years it will give everyone involved more time to come up with more tenable permanent solutions” said Mark Holden, Executive Director of the Mitigation Commission.

No existing water rights are impacted by this arrangement. Instead of diverting water for power generation, the flows purchased through the agreements will be measured and allowed to stay in the river and continue downstream. The river commissioner will measure the flows to be certain that they are meeting the target flows and Trout Unlimited staff will verify the flows.  The entire river corridor between the Murdock diversion and the Timpanogos Diversion will flow higher and healthier.

“Our groups came up with a creative solution to putting water in the river when fish and other water users need it most,” said Jordan Nielson, project manager for Trout Unlimited. “The Provo is one of the most popular trout fisheries in Utah and the West. People in the communities of Orem and Provo enjoy the river during the hottest days of the year. Each partner has played an important role in solving this issue.”

Pictures of before and after flows from 2018 are available from Jordan Nielson.