The purity of water stored above here, and spilling out below, has always been guarded ferociously. The Provo River watershed that feeds it provides drinking water for half of all Utahns. 
But developments are sprouting like cheatgrass on the hillsides surrounding the reservoir. 
And by this time next year, the river might have a new role – capturing treated sewer discharge.
No other wastewater treatment plant discharges into the Provo. And, while rivers elsewhere have served in the past as sewers and, in modern times, as depositories for treated sewer water, the Jordanelle Special Service District’s (JSSD) new plant would be the first direct discharge into the Provo. 
“Development is inevitable,” said Florence Reynolds, the director of water for Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities and one of those who recognizes that the Heber Valley needs more sewage capacity. 
“It is not the desired outcome, but it is a reality.” 
In that spirit, many are holding their noses and accepting the sewage plant as a necessity to handle growth in Wasatch County, where 11,489 new homes are planned for the rangeland surrounding the picturesque reservoir. A state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant won’t harm the Provo’s drinkability or the Heber Valley’s country charm, the thinking goes. 
But others are watching warily. 
They don’t want to sully what has become a symbol of Utah’s wholesome quality of life and are pushing to make the new plant as clean as possible.  Not only does the Provo provide tap water for more than 1 million Utahns; the federal government has also invested $60 million to restore the Heber Valley section into a world-class fishery. 
“We’re very concerned about Provo River water quality – any degradation of the water quality causes us further concern,” said Bart Forsythe, assistant general manager of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. The district relies on the Provo River watershed water for most of the water it supplies to more than 550,000 Salt Lake Valley taps. 
So far, Jordan Valley is finding virtually no “emerging contaminants” in the water: no drugs, no hormones, no birth-control pills or other worrisome chemicals that are now being detected in many urban water systems. And, so far, there does not appear to be any need for additional treatment of Utah’s big water supplies that might cost tens of millions of dollars.  The JSSD has been mindful of concerns like these as it proceeds with plans to build the sewer plant, which is scheduled to be finished in the spring.  Work crews have begun building the plant below the dam just east of U.S. Route 40. When completed, it will look like a brown barn.  Across the street is a fishers’ access for the Provo River Restoration Project. On the hillside above are two new high-end developments. 
“What we’re trying to do is build a sewer plant that doesn’t look like a sewer plant,” said JSSD General Manager Dan Matthews. 
The plant will allow Wasatch County’s population to roughly double from its current 21,000 residents. It will use the latest wastewater technology and will be fully enclosed so it won’t emit odors. And the $45 million in bonds to pay for it have been entirely underwritten by the Jordanelle developers, not local taxpayers, he said.  Mike Kohler knew there would be a struggle over finding a place to put the wastewater from new developments around Jordanelle. A lifelong resident of the Heber Valley and member of the Wasatch County Council, he serves on the Heber Valley Sewer District Board and heartily supports the new plant.  He believes it is unfair to bar people from developing their land because of a lack of services. So he is pleased about the technology available to protect the water supply. 
“It’s absolutely cleaner than the water in the river,” he said of the JSSD discharge.  Walter L. Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said the discharge permit will be the toughest in the state. The proposed discharge permit now under consideration contains strict limits on phosphorous and other pollution that might otherwise end up in Deer Creek Reservoir and the Provo, he said.  “We’ve been very protective of it,” he said. 
In May, Baker’s agency extended the deadline for commenting on the JSSD permit until July 31, at the district’s request. There is talk of trying to find a way to avoid a direct discharge into the river. Maybe one of the irrigation canals can be used. Or some other diversion can be found.  Paul Dremann, chairman of the Utah Blue-Ribbon Fisheries Council remains skeptical that the sewer plant won’t harm the river.  “It may be absolutely good water,” he said, “but that’s not the way a portion of the fishermen are going to see it.” 
Matthews has his own idea for demonstrating the water’s high quality. He wants to build a 10-foot fish tank in the sewer plant to hold a couple of trout from one of the nearby fishing holes. The district will run treated effluent through it.  “If there’s a problem,” he said, “we’ll see it in our own plant.”