Where will a desert water park get water?

Jellystone Park’s owner says he has cobbled together water rights to make the project work.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction continues on a water park at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Hurricane, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Hurricane • A new water park billed as southern Utah’s largest won’t open for another five months, but owner Scott Nielson is hopeful it will make a big splash when it debuts in the drought-stricken area sometime next summer.

Zion Utah Jellystone Park, a $50 million resort taking shape just outside Hurricane on Sand Hollow Road, is already making waves with some people who question the wisdom and the optics of opening such a water park during a historic drought.

“Not to be a ‘Debbie Downer,’ but aren’t [we] supposed to be conserving water? How can this park happen with [the] lack of water being an issue?” Christine Sheen asks on the park’s Facebook page.

“Ah yes. A water park. In the middle of a drought. Surely, this is a fantastic idea and nothing could ever go wrong,” said Millville resident Josh Blankenship.

Such sentiments are not without merit. Without additional water sources, water for new construction in Washington County might only last another five to seven years, according to Ivins Mayor Chris Hart, who sits on the Washington County Water Conservancy District board.

Despite such concerns, Nielson is eager to wade in and counter people’s water worries. He said the 53-acre park featuring Hanna-Barbera cartoon favorites such as Yogi Bear, his sidekick Boo Boo and Ranger Rick will sport the latest landscaping and technology, which will drastically cut water use.

Big plans

When it opens at a yet-to-be-determined date next summer, phase one of the park will include a 1.5-million gallon pond with 10 luxury “lakefront” cabins for rent, 75 sites for RV camping, a giant children’s playground, and a Jellystone water zone with a 45-foot-tall water tower, two superfast speed slides, a slide for tubing and another toilet bowl like slide billed as the “Royal Flush.”

Other attractions include an adult pool, a kiddie pool, two enormous hot tubs, and a 500-foot-long Lazy River with access to a beachfront with sand imported from California. There will also be a general store and snack bar, pavilions, basketball and pickleball courts, a Boo Boo Splash Pad, and a pillow jump, among other things.

Phases two and three of Jellystone will bump up the number of RV campsites to 250 and add bath houses and BlackLight miniature golf with animatronics, all of which should be completed by late 2023 or early 2024. Another signature activity will be gemstone mining, a sluice where children can pick out rocks, shells and gemstones. Rounding out the recreation menu will be Modern Warfare Laser Tag and Gaga Ball, a high-speed dodge ball imitation played in an octagon-like enclosure.

“This is massive, unlike anything southern Utah has ever seen,” said Nielson, who touts the park as a top-notch tourist draw that will appeal to visitors from all over the world, including Europe and Asia.

(Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort) A rendering of a new water park under construction in Hurricane.

Where does the water come from?

Nielson sold his RV dealership in St. George last year and is plowing the millions he made from the deal to build the park, which will become one of 80 parks affiliated with the Jellystone brand. By the Hurricane businessman’s reckoning, he has about 33 acre-feet of water rights — a combination of his own water rights, water rights he purchased from neighboring property owners and the water rights to a well that he purchased with the property. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons, which is enough water to cover an acre of land about one-foot deep.

In addition, the park will acquire culinary water from the Washington County Water Conservancy District — around 15 acre-feet, the equivalent amount used by 15 homes annually for drinking purposes, according to Zach Renstrom, district executive director.

“From a drinking water standpoint, it’s not an outrageous amount of water,” said Renstrom, adding there is no analysis of how much culinary water will be needed for the recreation aspects of the park.

Most of the water attractions at the park require culinary-grade water. Nielson said he is unsure at this point whether he can do that by treating the well water that he taps from the underground aquifer or if he will need to buy more potable water from the district.

“We’re going to try to utilize our own water source,” Nielson said. “But at the end of the day, if we’ve got to purchase it for the water park because of health codes and things, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Edward Andrechak, water program manager for Conserve Southwest Utah, said relying on culinary water to run the park is problematic. Even if the Jellystone is able to reuse water, he added, water parks in desert environments are notorious for water losses due to evaporation.

“For the life of me, if [you] had the whole state of Utah to pick from for a water park, I don’t know why you want to put it there,” he said. “It fails the common-sense test. A water park is the last thing on earth you would want to put there.”

Hurricane Mayor Nanette Billings insists otherwise, saying property owners should be free to use the water rights they own for development.

“He owns the right, and we’re all about the Constitution and personal property rights,” the mayor said.

Besides, Billings argued, water concerns are often overblown because people forget that water is a renewable resource.

“You have to remember the water cycle — evaporation and condensation make precipitation, and then we pull it back up out of the ground from an aquifer,” the mayor explained. “And [then] you start the water cycle again. So sometimes people forget that God creates the water. We have to remember it comes from him. And it’s just part of the cycle. We have to depend on that.”

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction continues on a water park at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Hurricane, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Trying to save water

For his part, Nielson touts the water conservation measures he is planning to put in place. For example, he has sunk over a half-million dollars in buying 500,000 square feet of synthetic grass for RV camping sites. He also envisions drawing well water from the pond and using drip irrigation to water the trees in the park.

“We’ve been pretty responsible in terms of going at this and using the least amount of water possible,” he said.

Doug Ferrell, the aquatics engineer, said evaporation would not pose much of a problem for the splash pad and the slides since the water will be stored underground and constantly recirculated, refiltered and have chemicals put into it. Expensive regenerative filters that will be installed will reduce the amount of water needed to remove particles and impurities from the filters by 30%.

Water attractions at the park total about 15,300 square feet and would, by Ferrell’s calculations, lose about 43,200 gallons a day from evaporation that would have to be replaced.

“That sounds like a lot of water,” Ferrell said. “But it would only be about the equivalent of two three-quarter-inch garden hoses running full blast all day and all night.”

However much water will be required to operate Jellystone, there is little dispute the resort will draw tourists, who already flood area RV parks, many of which are filled to overflowing. Nielson said he has already been approached by some companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange, which have placed a value of $70 million on Zion Jellystone and want to purchase a 50% stake in the park.

Washington City mother-of-two Fiona Morales, who has stayed at Jellystone parks in South Dakota and Wisconsin, is more interested in fun than in finances or water.

“Me and my boys plan on spending a lot of time at Zion Jellystone,” she said. “If [the park] can supply the water and the fun, we’ll be there.”

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