Strawberry Reservoir and Ute Lands

Strawberry Reservoir is known for being a popular fishing and camping spot and is an important contributor to irrigation needs along the Wasatch Front. A lesser known attribute of the reservoir is the cost in Ute Indian lands.

Strawberry Reservoir is located on the eastern edge of the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, nestled in Strawberry Valley east of Spanish Fork and southeast of Heber City. A tunnel four miles long runs through the Wasatch mountains and carries water from Strawberry Reservoir to the Spanish Fork River, a vital resource for agriculture in Utah Valley.

The reservoir’s history for Utah settlers began at the very start of the twentieth century, when the availability of irrigation water was a major concern for farmers of Utah’s arid lands. While traveling through Strawberry Valley on a camping trip, John S. Lewis and Henry Gardner first thought of building the reservoir and a water transport system. Gardner, a Utah State Senator at the time, was aware of the dire water problem for Utah’s population centers along the Wasatch Front. The idea of the reservoir proved to be an effective solution. A few years later, in 1906, construction began on the Strawberry Valley Project. The resulting Strawberry Reservoir was completed less than a decade later.

Although water diverted from the Strawberry Reservoir helped Utah Valley farmers irrigate their crops, the creation of the reservoir was devastating to the Ute Indians in the area. For years, the tribe had experienced varied encroachments of tribal land by white farmers who violated the law in doing so. Farmers grazed their cattle in Strawberry Valley and used water that belonged to reservation lands. Such actions not only posed a threat to Ute resources, but represented a disregard for Ute legitimacy. Earlier offenses were magnified by the Strawberry Reservoir project. The project neglected to consult the Ute tribe on its construction. Among the consequences of the project, the reservoir opened reservation lands to future developments like mining and white settlements, solidifying the loss for the Ute tribe.