Keeping the lights on in Spanish Fork steeped in history

The Spanish Fork windmills get a lot of visual attention but let us not forget the history of Spanish Fork’s hydroelectric power that has been providing electricity to south Utah County for more than 110 years. 

What started in 1906 as a farmland irrigation initiative, known as The Strawberry Valley Project eventually had a byproduct of hydroelectric power. That was the beginning of an electric power infrastructure that supported much of the population of south Utah County in the early years of the 20th Century.

It began with our pioneer ranchers and farmers diverting water from the Spanish Fork River and other streams for agricultural irrigation. The problem was that by mid-summer the flow of water dropped off and was insufficient to support the farmed acreage. Utah Senators Henry Gardner and John S. Lewis visited Strawberry Valley on a camping trip and came up with the idea of building a reservoir in the valley and developing a system to transport the water to the Spanish Fork River. 

When the Reclamation Act of 1902 was discussed in Congress problems arose. The original wording required “residence on the land” and for Utah the wording was changed to “residence in the neighborhood.” Another problem was the land for the proposed Strawberry Dam and Reservoir was on the Uintah Indian Reservation. Utah Senator Reed Smoot negotiated with his fellow Congressmen and the dam and reservoir site were withdrawn from the Reservation land and turned over to of Bureau of Reclamation. On Dec. 15, 1905, the Strawberry Valley Project was approved.

The Strawberry Valley Project consisted of constructing a dam and reservoir, Indian Creek Dike, Strawberry Tunnel, two diversion dams, three power plants and a canal system. This project was one of the first large scale diversion projects with a projection to provide water for approximately 45,000 acres of farmland in the Spanish Fork area. This project was one of the first Bureau of Reclamation projects to develop hydroelectric energy. The first use of the hydroelectric generator at the Spanish Fork power plant was to provide electricity to tunnel drilling equipment located up Spanish Fork Canyon. 

This meant that heavy electric cables needed to be strung up the canyon to the tunnel site. 

The human effort to complete the Strawberry Valley Project is exhausting to think about. 

It was also noted that in the early days of the powerplant when population was smaller it met the electricity needs of the rural Spanish Fork area. 

Chad Knapp, Operations Manager for the Strawberry Water Users Association explained that their purpose is to provide irrigation water for agricultural purposes and electric power production is a byproduct. 

Right now they do not have a lot of water flowing and have one generator working. When they have more water flowing, they will have all three generators working. 

With the growth in the demand for electricity this plant is part of the regional electrical grid system. 

In Utah there are six electricity-generating power plants. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)

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