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Central Utah Project

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General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Central Utah Project (CUP), being constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) is located in the central and east central part of Utah. It is the largest water resources development program ever undertaken in the State. The project provides Utah with the opportunity to beneficially use a sizable portion of its allotted share of the Colorado River water. Project irrigation water will be provided to Utah's rural areas in the Uintah and Bonneville Basins. Water will also be provided to meet the municipal and industrial requirements of the most highly developed part of the State along the Wasatch Front where population growth and industrial development are continuing at a rapid rate. Water developed by the Central Utah Project will be used for municipal, industrial, irrigation, hydroelectric power, fish, wildlife, conservation, and recreation. The project will improve flood control capability and assist in water quality control.

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Facility Descriptions

Unit descriptions and facilities

The CUP was divided into six separate units, Vernal, Bonneville, Jensen, Upalco, Uintah and Ute Indian Units, to facilitate planning and construction. The Vernal, Bonneville, Jensen, and Upalco Units were authorized for construction in 1956 by the Colorado River Storage Project Act. The Uintah Unit was authorized in 1968 by the Colorado River Basin Project Act. The Ute Indian Unit was formally de-authorized in the Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act of 1992 (CUPCA).

Situated entirely within the Uintah Basin are the Jensen, Vernal, Upalco, and Uintah Units. They will develop water for irrigation of both Indian and nonIndian lands and for municipal and industrial use in Duchesne and Uintah Counties. The Bonneville Unit involves water collection and distribution in both the Uintah Basin and the Bonneville Basin.

Bonneville Unit

The Bonneville Unit, now under construction, is the largest and most complex of the authorized units of the Central Utah Project. Greater utilization of Bonneville Basin water, made possible by the unit plan and a trans-basin diversion of water, will serve the needs of a growing population in the Bonneville Basin. This complex unit includes 10 new reservoirs, more than 200 miles of aqueducts, tunnels, and canals; a powerplant, pumping plants, and 300 miles of drains.

Starvation Reservoir, constructed on the Strawberry River about 3 miles above Duchesne, has a capacity of 167,000 acre-feet. It stores high flows of the Duchesne and Strawberry Rivers. Storage water is used for the late season irrigation of about 26,000 acres of land along the Duchesne River and to replace water presently used in that area which will be diverted to the Bonneville Basin.

The Duchesne River Area Canal Rehabilitation Program, which is nearly complete, will rehabilitate about 40.9 miles of existing canals along the Duchesne River to conserve about 14,000 acre-feet of water presently lost to seepage.

Crossing the south flank of the Uintah Mountains, the Strawberry Aqueduct, about 37 miles long, collects flows from Rock Creek and eight other tributaries of the Duchesne River and delivers the water to Strawberry Reservoir. The Upper Stillwater and Currant Creek Reservoirs serve as regulating reservoirs along the aqueduct.

Soldier Creek Dam has nearly quadrupled the capacity of Strawberry Reservoir from 283,000 to 1,106,500 acrefeet.

To compensate the Ute Indian Tribe for economic losses associated with stream fishing, Bottle Hollow Reservoir, located near Fort Duchesne, Utah, was constructed to provide recreation, fishing, and wildlife activities.

Water descending about 2,600 to the Bonneville Basin floor from Strawberry Reservoir will flow through the Diamond Fork System.

The water flowing into the Bonneville Basin will be stored in Utah Lake and the existing Mona and Sevier Bridge Reservoirs. Water will be used to irrigate Project land as well as for municipal and industrial purposes. The Spanish Fork Nephi Canal will convey irrigation and municipal and industrial water to Utah and Juab Counties.

Project water collected in Utah Lake will be exchanged upstream on the Provo River and be stored in the 320,300 acre-foot capacity Jordanelle Reservoir constructed 6 miles north of Heber City. A large portion of the water from Jordanelle Reservoir will be used for municipal and industrial purposes in northern Utah and Salt Lake Counties.

Vernal Unit

The Vernal Unit, completed in 1962, provides supplemental irrigation water to about 15,000 acres of land in Ashley Valley by storing the high spring flows of Ashley Creek for late season use. Flows from Ashley Creek are diverted at Fort Thornburgh Diversion Dam through the 3 mile long Steinaker Feeder Canal for storage in Steinaker Reservoir. This off stream reservoir, 3.5 miles north of Vernal, has a total capacity of 38,000 acre-feet. Storage water from the reservoir is distributed through the Steinaker Service Canal. Project lands that previously received a partial water supply from the unregulated flows of Ashley Creek and frequently suffered crop failures are now assured a reliable water supply.

The Vernal Unit also furnishes municipal water for the communities of Vernal, Naples, and Maeser. Recreation and fishing facilities have been provided at Steinaker Reservoir.

Jensen Unit

The Jensen Unit provides water for Ashley Valley and the area extending east of the valley to the Green River. The Jensen Unit, located in Uintah County, will provide about 18,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water in the Ashley Valley area and 4,600 acre-feet of irrigation water to lands in the vicinity of Jensen. Red Fleet Reservoir on Big Brush Creek, the Unit's major feature, has a total capacity of 26,000 acre-feet. The reservoir stores early spring runoff and surplus flows on Big Brush Creek for subsequent municipal, industrial, and irrigation use. Recreation, fish and wildlife, and flood control benefits are also part of the Project. During operation, municipal and industrial water will be lifted from Red Fleet Reservoir by the Red Fleet Pumping Plant to Tyzack Aqueduct. The Burns Pumping Plant will pump water from Green River for irrigation in the Jensen area. Water is also being provided to enhance the Stewart Lake Water Fowl Management Area.

Upalco Unit

The Upalco Unit Replacement Project consists of a proposal to construct a combination of features on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone Rivers in the Uintah Basin of northeastern Utah. The features include water storage reservoirs, improved diversion and distribution of water, water conservation, stabilization of high mountain lakes, instream flows, fish and wildlife mitigation and enhancements, recreation developments, and land retirement.

This unit would include building Crystal Ranch Dam and Reservoir, enlarging Big Sand Wash, replacing five existing diversion dams with new structures and building one new diversion dam. Seven canal laterals would be rehabilitated, a wetland maintenance system would be designed to preserve wetlands that have developed along existing canals where there is a water source from canal leaks. The new Sand Wash Feeder Pipeline would deliver additional reregulated flows from the Lake Fork river to the enlarge Big Sand Wash Reservoir for irrigation delivery and for storage of municipal and industrial water for the City of Roosevelt. Twin Pots Reservoir would be stabilized and through water exchanges, would be kept full and managed by the Ute Tribe as a fishery. Ten high mountain lakes in the upper Yellowstone River watershed and within the High Uintahs Wilderness Area would be stabilized, and five enhancements and five mitigation measures would be designed to replace, improve, and/or enhance fish and wildlife habitat that would be affected by the project. Also recreation developments would create and improve recreational facilities and opportunities.

Uintah Unit

The Unitah Unit, located in Duchesne and Uintah Counties in northeastern Utah, would develop flows of the Uintah and Whiterocks Rivers for the supplemental service irrigation of both Indian and non-Indian lands. Water for recreation, and fish and wildlife would also be provided.

Irrigation water would be made available from storage and regulation of surplus flows of the Uintah River, from savings of excessive seepage losses through rehabilitation of existing canals, and the increased use of return flows. Storage regulation would be provided in Uintah Reservoir on the Uintah River near the northern boundary of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservations. Irrigation supplies would be released to the stream channels below and distributed through new and existing canal systems.

Part of the storage in Lower Uintah Reservoir would be used to replace the irrigation supply presently obtained from five high country lakes all situated within the Ashley National Forest. The five lakes would be rehabilitated and stabilized as fishery lakes. A permanent fish pool would also be provided at the Lower Uintah Reservoir. Recreational facilities would be developed as part of this project.

Ute Indian Unit

The Ute Indian Unit was originally proposed for the purpose of using Utah's remaining share of the Colorado River water supply. Initially, the scope of the unit included development of both Indian and non-Indian lands primarily in the Uintah and Bonneville Basins; later the scope was expanded to a statewide concept.

Because many of the key factors which influence the development of Utah's remaining share of Colorado River water were in a state of flux, thereby inhibiting formulation of a viable plan, a concluding report for the Ute Indian Unit was published in May 1980. The Ute Indian Unit was formally de-authorized in the CUPCA legislation of October 30, 1992.

Additional Federal Development for the Ute Indian Tribe

Title V of Public Law 102-575, dated October 30, 1992 (CUPCA) authorized the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation to quantify by compact its reserved water rights and to settle long outstanding claims against the United States arising out of the construction of the Central Utah Project. In order to find sufficient amounts of water to justify the substantial expense of constructing the Bonneville Unit trans-basin facilities, the United States, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, and the Ute Indian Tribe, entered into an agreement in 1965 where the Tribe agreed to defer development of a portion of its Reservation land in order to free up water that could be diverted from the Uintah Basin to the Bonneville Unit. In exchange, the United States agreed to provide water to all of the lands of the Reservation that were acceptible to irrigation. None of the major Uintah Basin projects which were intended to assist the Ute Indian Tribe have been built. The CUPCA legislation provided for a cash settlement to the Ute Tribe in lieu of the projects contemplated by the 1965 Deferral Agreement. The settlement includes a portion of Bonneville Unit M&I revenues, a development fund, establishment of enhanced Tribal Farming operations, and other benefits specifically intended to improve the natural resources and economic opportunities on the Reservation. The portion of Bonneville Unit M&I revenues paid to the Tribe amount to over $2 million per year and the funding for agriculture, natural resources and economic development are over $200 million.

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Father Escalante and his party of Spanish soldiers entered the project area in 1776 as the first explorers. Many traders, trappers, and explorers entered the area from 1820 to 1845. Names prominent in that period and still borne by local towns and features, they include General William Henry Ashley, Captain Benjamin L.E. Bonneville, Jim Bridger, Peter Skene Ogden, Jedediah S. Smith, Kit Carson, Etienne Provost, and John C. Fremont.

Settlement of the area began in 1847 in the Salt Lake Valley with the arrival of Brigham Young and his company of Mormon pioneers. Entering the valley on July 24, the first group of pioneers launched a program of softening the sunbaked soil for plowing by diverting water from City Creek. This marked the first large scale irrigation in the United States. By the fall of 1847, Salt Lake Valley was inhabited by 2,000 settlers. The following years brought a great influx of colonizers, who settled in all of the fertile valleys in the region.

The greater part of the Uintah Basin was established as an Indian reservation in 1861. During the period from 1890 to 1905, the lands required by the Indians were allotted to them in severalty, and in 1905 the remaining lands were opened to homesteading by settlers.

The Central Utah Project development has been considered by local groups and Government agencies since about the turn of the century. In 1902, farmers and civic leaders first investigated the feasibility of diverting water from the Colorado River to the Bonneville Basin in central Utah.

Agriculture is the basic industry throughout the project area, except in the Salt Lake City-Provo vicinity where mining, smelting, and manufacturing are of great importance economically. Livestock raising is also a principal agricultural pursuit. A favorable base for livestock operations are the feed crops extensively produced on irrigated lands and the vast range resources that are available on nearby mountains and plains. Although feed crops are a principal product, diversified crops are grown in parts of the project area, particularly in the Bonneville Basin.


The Central Utah Project plan has evolved from investigations of various independent projects. Continuous investigations have been conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation since 1945 from a plan which started in 1902 on the Strawberry Valley Project. It was recognized early in the investigations that the project was of such magnitude and complexity that it should be divided into separate units to facilitate planning and construction. A feasibility report was published in February 1951.


The Vernal, Bonneville, Jensen, and Upalco Units were authorized for construction in 1956 by the Colorado River Storage Project Act. The Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968 authorized the Uintah Unit, and approved the Ute Indian Unit for feasibility investigation.

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Flood Control

The Central Utah Project has provided an accumulated $796,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999.

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Last updated: Aug 25, 2009