This legislator brought a shotgun to a water fight. Robert Gehrke has the back story.

State Rep. Carl Albrecht said he was ‘just trying to bring a little humor to the agenda,’ but not everyone was amused.

It’s certainly not the first time in Utah history that someone has tried to use a shotgun to resolve water issues, but it might be the first time the guy holding the gun was a state legislator.

Last week, state Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Bicknell, called a meeting of water users supporting the construction of a dam on the Sevier River that users below the dam are none too keen on.

When those downstream users heard about the Aug. 22 meeting, they showed up and wanted in, at which point, Albrecht decided to go out to his car and bring back his shotgun, and kept it in view as the two sides talked through the issues surrounding the proposal.

“I was just trying to add a little humor to the agenda, so I brought my old double barrel shotgun in with my action open and set it there on the podium,” Albrecht told me this week. “I referred to it once only, [when I said] that people get shot over water and you can mess with my wife but don’t mess with my water.”

Afterward, Albrecht said several of the people attending the meeting wanted to see the shotgun. Not everyone representing the central Utah water users was quite so impressed.

“That’s b*******. I guess we gotta start taking pistols to water meetings,” one local water official told me. “He used it as a metaphor, but you don’t mess around with that in this day and age. There’s too much stuff going on.”

The shotgun also didn’t help break the impasse on the topic at hand — the proposed construction (reconstruction, really) of the Hatch Town Dam. The dam has been built a few times, the last being in 1907, but it collapsed in 1914 after a stick of dynamite used to open a jammed headgate damaged the rock dam and it gave way.

Numerous attempts have been made to rebuild the dam, the main proponents being water users in Garfield County who hope it would help mean more reliable water during the growing season.

But since the dam crumbled, the Sevier River — which begins in Kane County and flows through Garfield, turns west at Delta and ends in the Sevier Lake in Millard County — has been subject to a flood of litigation.

That includes three Supreme Court cases, one culminating in “The Cox Decree,” which locked in water rights up and down the river. It was followed by a 1946 proclamation from the governor that no new water rights could be granted.

Subsequent rulings made clear that nothing can be done upstream that impairs the water available to rights-holders downstream. All of this combines to create an enormous obstacle for dam proponents.

Nonetheless, in 2022 Albrecht got the Legislature to spend $500,000 to study the feasibility of rebuilding the dam.

Last month, the nearly 1,500-page report was completed and said, in essence, building a dam would be easy. Finding water to fill the reservoir behind it would be nearly impossible, because all the water has already been claimed.

The most viable option, the study said, would be to convince water users below the dam to let the reservoir store their water until they need it, then it would be released downstream.

Albrecht contends that, particularly in very wet years like last winter there could also be some leftover water and storing it could benefit all the downstream users.

But that presumes there is a surplus.

Despite the wet winter, existing reservoirs along the river are still below capacity, said Andy Nickle, president of the Sevier River Bridge Reservoir Company. Several of them remain well below capacity. Yuba Lake, behind the Sevier River Bridge Dam, is currently just 15% full, despite construction on the dam being completed in May.

“What benefit would I have to build another dry reservoir on the Sevier?” he asked. “Nobody has been able to give us a logical reason why they’re pushing for this dam site.”

It’s part of the reason that — even though Albrecht had only invited dam supporters from Garfield County and state water officials to his recent meeting — Nickle and several other representatives of Sevier water users decided to show up.

When they were introduced to Albrecht, that’s when he said he needed to go get his gun.

“It was in poor taste in a state office,” Nickle said.

It didn’t make a difference, Albrecht acknowledges. Opponents of the plan were just as entrenched as they were before the meeting started. He said that in the upcoming legislative session he might try to get some more money to do a cost-benefit analysis on the proposed dam. If it doesn’t pencil out, he said, they’ll walk away.

“That river has been litigated more than just about any other drainage in the state,” Albrecht said. “It would be a huge untangling of a big web to get everyone to agree.”

That could take a minor miracle. Evidently, the barrel of a shotgun didn’t do the job.