Leaky Navajo Lake might take years, cost millions to fix
Government agencies have invited the public to brainstorm solutions for the leaky dikes at Navajo Lake, leaks that could take a few years and millions of dollars to plug.
But Sonny Reisig, manager at the lodge and general store at the shrinking lake, proposes a simpler solution.
"These government agencies, they want to paperwork things to death," he said. "I say, phooey on all that. All you need is a dump truck and a backhoe." A contractor got the job last time for around $18,000, he said.
Yet, representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service doubt a long-term solution will be that simple. Repairing the earthen dam right could cost more than $2 million, they say.
The agencies plan a meeting Tuesday evening at the Division of Wildlife Resources office in Cedar City to update the community and field ideas.
"There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm to find a solution," said Kenton Call, a spokesman for the Dixie National Forest, which owns the land surrounding the lake.
"It's gonna take some time; it's gonna take some environmental analysis; it's gonna take some planning," he said. "We want to see something move forward because these communities have had a rough time of it."
The lake, east of Cedar City near Duck Creek Village, is popular for boating, swimming and fishing. It's a draw for Las Vegans eager for fresh mountain air, recreation and beautiful scenery, said Cindy Allen, a real estate agent who makes Duck Creek her home year-round.
But, between the shrinking lake, with its unsightly shorelines, and the part-time closure of State Route 14, where a rock slide ripped out the pavement last fall, the community sees speedy results as essential.
"It's devastating our community in Duck Creek Village," she said.
Allen said she will press state and federal agencies Tuesday to make a short-term repair and long-term ones as well. Were the troubles at high-profile Brian Head or Springdale, both repairs would have been done long ago, she said.
"But since it's Duck Creek," she added, "we're completely left in the dust."
Richard Hepworth at the state wildlife agency insists both long- and short-term repairs are under consideration. But he notes that leaks have been a periodic problem since the locals constructed the earthen dam in 1930 as a way to shore up a natural lake that sometimes went dry.
"We are in a kind of Catch-22 up there," he said.
That's because the best way to plug the leaks for good is to rebuild the dam. But, to figure out the best way to do that, the state Division of Water Resources needs to take bore samples of the dike. To do it right, and to compact the dike properly, said dam engineer Matt Call, the lake needs to be "bone dry."
Will a short-term repair work? Call said that won't be known until the samples come in. "It will give us the data we can base our future remediations on."
Meanwhile, the best estimates at this point suggest lasting repairs would take another three years and cost more than $2 million, said Hepworth.
"There needs to be a long-term fix up there," he said. "And that's going to be expensive."
Navajo Lake • Fishing and other fun at the leaky lake
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources notes that breaches have been a problem at the half-mile-long lake since it was originally built in 1930. Six times the dike has failed and each time there have been repairs or a dike-raising.
The area sees about 2,500 campers a year, plus about 66,000 car visits over the summer season. Private cabins are supplemented with 12 rentals managed by the Navajo Lake Lodge.
This year, the wildlife office held off on stocking the usual 20,000 Rainbow trout, brown trout and splake. But they have lifted the usual four-a-day catch limit and are allowing eight. More than 6,000 anglers tried their luck on the lake last summer, according to an agency survey.