The St. George area needs more water. Neighbors are fighting the fix.

A proposed $22 million reservoir is drawing fire from critics who want to preserve bucolic Dry Wash.

(Robert Bolar) Dry Wash.

Ivins • A $22 million storage reservoir proposed for west Ivins is drawing fire from residents who say it will displace Dry Wash, a beautiful nature preserve-like area that provides critical habitat for wildlife and doubles as open space for hikers and other recreation enthusiasts.

To keep pace with growth in and around St. George, the Washington County Water Conservancy District plans to build Dry Wash Reservoir on 90-plus acres between Kwavasa Drive and Highway 91. The project would enable the district 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 cropping up in the county.

But members of the Dry Wash Study Group, an ad hoc group formed to oppose the reservoir, say Dry Wash is the wrong location for the project. They argue that it would become an attractive nuisance, be a haven for gnats and mosquitoes and pose a safety risk.

A Walmart in Snow Canyon?

All things considered, study group member Robert Bolar said, the reservoir is neither safe nor a good look for Ivins.

“Dry Wash [contains] some of the finest open space in the county …,” he said. “The land is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and photographers. Placing a reservoir there is like putting a Walmart in Snow Canyon. It would be totally out of place.”

Whatever side of the Dry Wash divide people stand on, nearly everyone agrees reuse reservoirs are needed. With the Lake Powell Pipeline being placed on the back burner due to that reservoir’s low water levels and ongoing multistate efforts to conserve Colorado River water, Washington County’s water district is aggressively pursuing other options to shore up its water supply.

The county’s population is nearing 200,000 and is expected to double over the next three to four decades. With Lake Powell water a pipe dream for the foreseeable future, the district simply does not have enough water on tap to deal with the growth.

(Robert Bolar) Dry Wash.

To address the shortfall, the district unveiled a 20-year master plan last July that calls for securing another 47,000 acre-feet of water by 2042 through more stringent conservation, the development of new water projects and the construction of a regional reuse system at a combined cost of more than $1 billion.

Currently, the St. George Water Reclamation Facility in Bloomington treats about 12.5 million gallons of wastewater per day from Ivins, St. George, Santa Clara and Washington City, most of which is discharged into the Virgin River to flow downstream into Lake Mead because there is no place to store it.

Of that total, according to the district’s master plan, only about 2,400 acre-feet of water per year is treated and captured for reuse in St. George. In addition, 2,000 acre-feet of reuse water per year is committed to the Shivwits Band of Paiutes’ reservation west of St. George.

Another 12,600 acre-feet of wastewater could be treated, stored and reused for outdoor irrigation, which would free up culinary water to supply drinking water to the new housing coming to Ivins and other cities in the district.

That’s where Dry Wash enters the picture. Concerned by the historic drought gripping southwest Utah, Ivins City Council members approved a resolution in 2021 that encouraged the water district to acquire Dry Wash for the reservoir through condemnation.

Developer Terry Marten had purchased the land, along with additional acreage, from the Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA. Facing condemnation, Marten opted in 2022 to sell 88 acres to the district for a little over $1.3 million and the district is still negotiating with the developer to purchase another 5.6 acres.

Since acquiring the land, the district has invested several million dollars into the design of the reservoir, which could store as much as 2,000 acre-feet of water but would typically hold about 1,500 acre-feet at its fullest point. That total would be drawn down to about 300 acre-feet during the hot summer months as the reuse water would be allocated to other areas where it was needed.

The reuse water would be piped uphill to Dry Wash from the St. George treatment plant. In wet years, the reservoir could be used to store water from Gunlock Reservoir, which could then capture and store more water from the spring runoff flowing from nearby mountains.

Gnats and other bugaboos

Shelley Lapkoff, a semiretired demographer, and her husband, Mark Lindquist, who formed the Dry Wash Study Group, call reuse reservoirs the future but note that most of them are situated in state parks, not in established residential areas.

“Putting a reservoir in an established residential community raises a lot of issues,” said Lapkoff, who says most residents oppose a reservoir in Dry Wash.

Unruly and noisy crowds at nearby Ivins Reservoir are already a problem for many residents. Another bugaboo, study group members attest, are hordes of gnats that plague the area each year from late spring through fall and make it difficult for residents to open home windows or sit outside. They note the reservoir, like others in the area, could be infested with invasive Tamarisk trees and contaminated with toxic algae blooms.

(Robert Bolar) Dry Wash.

Dry Wash critics also take issue with the proposed design of the reservoir, which features a dike they argue could leak and pose a flood risk for nearby homes. Also, they note, the reservoir’s water levels would be drawn down during the hot summer months, exposing as much as 47 acres of the sandy lakebed to winds that could blow dust across Ivins and Santa Clara. One possible solution to the wind issue the water district is exploring would be to add gravel to the shore and excavate shallow areas of the reservoir to reduce the size of the exposed lakebed.

Hooking up

Yet another issue Ivins Councilman Mike Scott said must be resolved in a recent blog is that many areas of Ivins can’t access reuse water because the city doesn’t have a delivery system in place.

“Homes built in Ivins after 2000 have secondary water lines ready to accept reuse water, but there’s no city connection from one subdivision to another,” Scott wrote. “So, we can’t get reuse water from a reservoir to anyone’s home yet. We are using culinary water for everything. Not a wise move in a desert. Especially since outdoor water use consumes about half of all our culinary water.”

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said the city has plans to build a distribution system to get water to homes that have secondary water lines in place, but said it will cost the city about $30 million and be phased in over 15 years.

“It’s a lot of money for a little city,” said Hart, adding the city is waiting to see what the district does before “diving in” on financing such an expensive project.

Other areas in Ivins, such as Black Desert Resort, can already access reuse water. The $2 billion resort taking shape in east Ivins has the right to tap up to 450 acre-feet of secondary and reuse water per year from St. George that can be used to water its golf course. Reuse water from Dry Wash Reservoir would augment that total.

Dry Wash Reservoir would add at least 1,200 acre-feet of water per year to the district’s reuse pool, Scott noted in his blog, which “frees up enough culinary water to meet the needs of close to 6,000 people. That’s if we fill it just once a year. And that’s if we stop doing better each year on conservation.”

Lapkoff and other critics want the district to build Graveyard Wash — a reuse reservoir planned for the Santa Clara area near Highway 91 — first to provide Ivins officials and residents more time to address problems Dry Wash might bring and to determine if there are better alternatives to building the reservoir there.

Other recommendations include requiring the district to reimburse the city for any costs incurred related to the operation and maintenance of the reservoir and to ensure the water and surrounding area are safe and aesthetically pleasing. Finally, the group is asking the district to consider an alternative design drawn up by Ivins geophysicist Wayne Pennington, for a smaller reservoir that would ease flood concerns by not requiring a dike and also reduce the size of the exposed lakebed during the hot summer months.

Zach Renstrom, water district general manager, said all the concerns raised by Dry Wash opponents were already addressed by a 2004 Environmental Assessment. He said the district has not encountered any negative impacts the group cites at other reservoirs the district operates, including Ivins Reservoir.

“[Dry Wash] reservoir has been in the works over 20 years … this is nothing new,” Renstrom said, adding the current design of the reservoir has undergone rigorous analyses and has been subject to third-party review.

“We’re not trying to build a reservoir to make anyone mad,” he continued. “Our whole goal is to get people water … If there is a better solution out there, I’m open to ideas.”

Lapkoff and others will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas and concerns to city and district officials at a Talk About forum slated for Rocky Vista University in Ivins at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21. In addition, Mayor Hart plans to consider residents’ concerns and discuss possible options or remedies at an upcoming council meeting.

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