Opponents want to sink proposed southern Utah reservoir and replace it with open-space nature park

Developer pledges to create Dry Wash park and gift it to Ivins to preserve the bucolic area

Ivins • Developer Terry Marten is one of many Ivins residents who can’t fathom why anyone would want to submerge a beautiful natural wash with wildlife and rock formations for a $22 million reuse reservoir in the middle of a residential community.

If opponents can persuade the Washington County Water Conservancy District to deep-six its plan to build Dry Wash Reservoir on 90-plus acres in west Ivins between Kwavasa Drive and Highway 91, Marten is pledging to build an open-space nature park there, preserve the area and its access to the public and gift it to the city.

“It’s a travesty to build that reservoir there in my opinion, " Marten said. “We’ll regret it five or 10 years later but [Dry Wash] will be ruined by that point.”

Marten purchased the land, along with additional acreage, from the Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, with the idea of building an open-space park that would be at the heart of a six-mile trail stretching from Hellhole Canyon near Ivins’ Kayenta neighborhood to Santa Clara.

But several days after closing the deal with SITLA, Marten said, the water district swooped in to acquire the land. Faced with losing the land to the district through condemnation, Marten said he opted to sell 88 acres to the district for $1.35 million with an option to buy back the property should the reservoir fail to come to fruition.

Last-ditch effort

Preserving an option on the property — which would have been lost if the land had been acquired through condemnation — was a last-ditch effort, Marten explained, to hang on to his dream for the trail and making Dry Wash an open-space park.

Dry Wash Reservoir, along with Graveyard Reservoir proposed for Santa Clara further east, would be used to store treated reuse water, which could be used for outdoor irrigation during the peak hot summer months, freeing up culinary water to supply new homes built to keep pace with growth.

Washington County’s population is nearing 200,000 and is projected to double over the next three to four decades. In its 20-year master plan unveiled last July, the district calls for acquiring another 47,000 acre-feet of water by 2042 to keep pace with growth.

Along with implementing stricter conservation measures and development of new water projects, the plan calls for the construction of a regional reuse system at a combined cost of more than $1 billion. Dry Wash Reservoir would typically hold roughly 1,500 acre-feet of water at its fullest point, an amount that would be drained down to about 300 acre-feet during the summer as the water was allocated to areas where it needed most.

Zach Renstrom, water district general manager, said the district has undergone a rigid National Environment Policy Act process and an environmental assessment in 2004.

“They looked at multiple other potential sites and determined [Dry Wash] was the best location — not just because it is a good site to hold water from a geological science standpoint but also because it would have the least environmental impact of the other sites they were looking at,” said Renstrom, the district’s general manager since 2019.

Right idea, wrong location

Members of Dry Wash Study Group, which was formed recently to oppose the reservoir, agree about the need for reuse reservoirs but argue Dry Wash is the wrong location. They insist a reservoir would be infested with gnats, unruly crowds, toxic algae blooms and invasive Tamarisk trees.

Moreover, they argue, the current design for the proposed reservoir includes a dam that could leak and pose a safety risk to nearby homes. They also say drawing down the reservoir during the summer would expose about 47 acres of lakebed sand to high winds that would spread dust clouds all over Ivins and Santa Clara.

Marten noted when the 2004 environmental assessment was conducted, the land was largely empty of development. He said that has changed over the past five years with the construction of new homes near Dry Wash.

“The [assessment] does not address the problems associated with the reservoir being built in the center of a community.” the developer said.

For his part, Ivins resident Robert Bolar worries about the smell of a reservoir where treated wastewater was stored.

“Can you imagine filling a nature preserve full of sewage water only partially treated?” he asks. “Dry Wash has always been designated as an open space. … Ivins is in desperate need of more open space as developers pave every available parcel with homes.”

Preserving the dream

Dry Wash is central to Marten’s dream for a park and six-mile trail, which would be a haven for hikers and cyclists. As currently envisioned, the trail would stretch from Hellhole Canyon south through Dry Wash, where the park would be located, cross Highway 91, and intersect about 200 acres Marten owns in Anasazi Valley. It would then parallel the Santa Clara River east a few miles and end near that city’s public works facility.

Some of the trail system would be on federal Bureau of Land Management land but Marten said much of it would be on his property, which he has spent “millions of dollars” over the years to create the park in Dry Wash and for the trail system — all of which he said he will deed to Ivins to preserve the area in perpetuity.

“The heart of the trail system is Dry Wash,” said Marten, who said the reservoir would shut down public access to roughly one mile of his planned trail network. “The wildlife and sculptured rock in this area is just beautiful and it could be groomed with trails … that will make it phenomenal.”

Opponents hope the reservoir isn’t a slam dunk. In 2021, the Ivins City Council passed a resolution encouraging the water district to acquire Dry Wash for the reservoir through condemnation. However, Ivins Mayor Chris Hart, who sits on the district’s water board, noted the council’s decision came in the midst of a historic drought and a dire need for solutions to the area’s water woes.

Still, he noted he is not certain what legal options the city could pursue to halt the project. He said the district has already spent a couple of million dollars on the Dry Wash Reservoir project.

“What are the implications of suddenly the rug being pulled out from underneath that?” he asked.

Hart has pledged to address residents’ concerns about the reservoir and discuss possible remedies at an upcoming council meeting.

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