Mayor lays out where St. George is planning on getting water to keep growing in address

“We are still keeping our fingers crossed on the Lake Powell pipeline, but a Warner Valley Reservoir would be huge,” Mayor Michele Randall said.

(City of St. George) A rendering of St. George's new City Hall building.

St. George • As far as southern Utah’s largest city has come, its future growth and progress are largely dependent on water, St. George Mayor Michele Randall said Tuesday during her State of the City address.

Speaking to an overflow crowd at the Dixie Convention Center, Randall reminded attendees that, despite recent storms, the area remains in a moderate drought and the city still needs to conserve and find more sources of water.

“Although we’ve had a very wet year this year and we’ve had a lot of moisture … we still have a lot of challenges when it comes to water,” the mayor said.

Despite the ongoing concerns about the long-term availability of water, Randall highlighted the strides the city has made in conservation over the past year, including the implementation of a restrictive water ordinance that bans nonfunctional grass on new commercial and industrial developments and limits the amount of grass allowed on new home construction.

Randall further lauded the city’s turf-removal efforts. All told, she said, the city has removed 60,000 square feet of grass, which is the equivalent of “taking an 18-inch strip and rolling it from City Hall down past the Arizona border.”

According to the mayor, replacing the grass with xeriscaping at the City Commons building across the street from City Hall saved 275 million gallons of water last year. In addition, by planting fescue grass — grass known for its resistance to drought — in out-of-play areas on municipal golf courses, the city saved a combined 113.5 million gallons over the past two years.

Another conservation highlight, Randall mentioned, is the phase two construction of the city’s ongoing $65 million upgrade to its wastewater treatment plant. Once it is finished later this year, the expansion project is expected to boost the plant’s capacity to treat wastewater from 17 million gallons to 24 million gallons a day.

It is part of an effort to ditch the use of culinary water for outdoor watering and replace it with secondary or irrigation water. And while it may not sound palatable, the plant could be used to make the wastewater potable or fit to drink.

“That is what they’re doing in Las Vegas,” the mayor said. “And I know it sounds horribly disgusting, but it just might come to that with [our] water.”

Another water project on tap is Graveyard Wash, a reservoir planned for a city-owned property just off Highway 91 that will store reuse water.

“It’s going to store up to … 12 or 1400-acre-feet of water, and so during the winter we can pump our reuse water up to this reservoir and save it for the summertime because right now we’re just treating that water and sending it downriver to Lake Mead,” Randall said.

The project is currently in the final design stages. Construction on the reservoir is slated to commence this fall and is expected to take 18 months to complete.

Still, the mayor told The Tribune after her remarks, St. George’s water supply could eventually run dry without finding additional water sources. To that end, the mayor said a reservoir the Washington County Water Conservancy District has long proposed for nearby Warner Valley would help alleviate such concerns.

“We are still keeping our fingers crossed on the Lake Powell pipeline, but a Warner Valley Reservoir would be huge. It would enable us to pump reuse water there, mix it with water from Sand Hollow Reservoir and make it drinkable. So there are projects on the horizon that would help with water, but it is taking time. So right now we are pushing conservation.”

(City of St. George) The city plans to build the City Hall on the east side of Main Street, across the street from Historic Town Square.

With water levels in Lake Powell at historic lows and greatly reduced water flows on the Colorado River due to drought, many experts say the proposed 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline is unlikely to be built anytime soon, if ever.

Still, such water concerns did little to dampen the celebratory mood at the event, which was largely focused on the progress the city has made and on upcoming projects that will change the city’s landscape and skyline.

Foremost among those is a new city hall the city plans to build on the east side of Main Street, across the street from Historic Town Square. Newly appointed City Manager John Willis, who also spoke at the event, noted the current St. George City Hall on the hillside north of St. George Blvd. is bursting at the seams and a replacement is long overdue.

“When it was built [in 1980], we had 11,000 people living in St. George,” he said.

St. George had 105 full-time employees at that time, but the city’s population now hovers near 100,000 and the city employs 800 full-time workers, according to city spokesperson David Cordero.

Currently, the city is still accepting bids on the project but has some preliminary illustrations of what the edifice will look like. Willis said the city is hoping to break ground on the project some time later this year. The St. George Police Department will eventually take over the current city hall.

Growth, as St. George leaders have repeatedly noted in recent years, is fueling the need for ever more amenities and infrastructure.

“St. George’s has been the fastest growing city in the nation for several years,” Willis said. “People want to be here. People want to move here. People want to raise their families here. And that’s one of the reasons why our growth and our population continues to rise.”

To accommodate that need, St. George recently completed Fish Rock Park in the Ledges community and the Temple Springs Trail that winds from Red Hills Parkway down to 700 East and St. George Blvd. Randall said two more parks are on the way — Fossil Falls Park near the Virgin River which will be completed in June and Broken Mesa, targeted for completion this year in the Desert Canyons area not far from the St. George Airport.

Planned public safety enhancements also received props from city officials. Chief among them is Fire Station 1, the main fire station that will be erected at 400 E. and 100 South at the site of the former Flood Street Chapel the city purchased from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Once the headquarters station comes online in 2024, it will have 20,000 square feet, nearly triple the 7,500 square feet of the current station on 1000 East and will feature easier access that should cut down on response times. Another station is proposed for the Desert Color area.

Other planned infrastructure projects mentioned at the event include a major resurfacing of Dixie Drive, a new interchange on the Southern Parkway at the end of George Washington Blvd., and a major trail that will stretch along State Route 7, beginning at Desert Color Parkway and continuing east past the airport all the way to Hurricane, among others.

Such infrastructure and amenities add up to an increased quality of life, something Randall noted was in short supply during her recent visit to Disneyland — outside the gates of the amusement park.

“The garbage, the graffiti, the traffic, the homeless … it was crazy,” the mayor said. “And so we have it really well here.”

Despite the occasional digs about California, Golden State expats Robert and Debra Cipriani did not take offense. The couple moved to St. George five years ago to escape the crime, traffic and other problems they say continue to plague California.

“We really love St. George and feel blessed to live here, " Debra said. “It is like a breath of fresh air. There’s really no comparison [with California].”

For his part, St. George resident Alan Mitchell said he appreciated city leaders’ positivity.

“But,” he added, “I think they may be overstating the accomplishments and underestimating the problems we face. Still, I think there are a lot of other cities that would love to trade places with St. George, problems and all. We really do have a great quality of life.”