Ivins considers giving stamp of approval for water district to acquire Kayenta land for reservoir

ST. GEORGE — The city of Ivins is considering encouraging the use of eminent domain by the county’s water authority to acquire empty land owned by developers of the Kayenta for the creation of a new reservoir. 

Map, presented before the Ivins City Council, shows the designated for a potential new reservoir | Photo courtesy Ivins City, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The dispute has put the City Council in conflict with a Kayenta developer who was just elected to take his own seat on the council in January. While the developer, the city and the Washington County Water Conservancy District are continuing to negotiate over the ultimate size of the reservoir or whether it should exist in the first place, the council will decide at its meeting this Thursday whether to endorse the water district to acquire the Kayenta land through a condemnation process should the negotiations fail. 

The Washington County Water Conservancy District has been looking at the land that lies at the western end of Center Street between Old Highway 91 and Kwavasa Drive as the site of a new reservoir, tentatively called the Dry Wash Reservoir. Currently, the empty land is primarily used by mountain bikers.

The new reservoir, at up to 2,000 acre-feet of water, would have up to four times the capacity of the nearby Ivins Reservoir, which was completed in 1918. 

The empty land that contains a ravine includes areas owned by Kayenta Development/RT Marten UT LLC. The developer agreed to table a request for a zone change to add additional housing to the land at the council’s Sept. 2 meeting in return for negotiations with the water conservancy on a solution to which both parties can agree.

File photo of then-Ivins City Council candidate Lance Anderson at a mayoral and City Council candidate forum held at the Lava Ridge Intermediate School, Ivins, Utah, Oct. 4, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The conservancy’s general manager, Zach Renstrom, has previously told the council that the reservoir is necessary to help with what he says are dwindling water supplies in Southern Utah. It would not be used to supply drinking water but would supply nonpotable water for irrigation and agriculture in Ivins and the surrounding communities, as well as the area’s golf courses. However, this does not include a course under construction at the Black Desert Resort at Entrada, which will use its own water supply of 450 acre-feet delivered out of St. George’s water allocation. (See Ed. note)

However, during the Ivins City Council meeting held Nov. 18, Kayenta developer Lance Anderson disputed whether a reservoir is needed, saying that the talk of a drought isn’t about sustaining people who are here now but supporting a larger population that is not here yet. 

“What I am frustrated with is they say we need 2,000 acre-feet of water,” Anderson said. “No, we don’t need it. Californians need it. We don’t need it.”

Anderson and Kayenta owner, Terry Marten, have also taken issue that Kayenta has been making plans for more than a decade to develop the land, and the previous owner of the land was reportedly told in 2004 that the land would not be used for a reservoir. The land includes a formation known as the “horsehead.” 

After he received the second-most votes for the Ivins City Council on Nov. 2, Anderson, along with Mike Scott, will join the council in January.

File photo of Washington Water Conservancy District General Manager Zach Renstrom, speaks at the Ivins City Council meeting at Ivins City Hall, Ivins, Utah, Sept. 2, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Renstrom announced at the Nov. 18 meeting that they and Kayenta had reached an agreement to build a reservoir at less than half the capacity, at 1,000 acre-feet, that was previously requested and would allow Kayenta to maintain land for future development. 

Though Renstrom added it was a reluctant compromise out of being neighborly to Kayenta, as opposed to a reflection of a reduced need for water resources. 

“We always want to be good neighbors and work with people,” Renstrom said, mentioning that Marten is against having any reservoir at all. “ I would rather have a 1,000-acre reservoir than no reservoir.”

But council members expressed opposition to the agreement, saying too many concessions were being made to the entire city’s water supply to allow one developer more land to build additional housing. Members also found it difficult in a time when residents are ripping out lawns in the name of water conservation to cut the size of a reservoir in half. 

Renstrom also said the dams for the smaller reservoir will actually cost taxpayers more to build as more dam space is needed to hold back the smaller reservoir. He added even with the compromise, there were “lingering issues” with Kayenta over the purchase price of the land. 

“I just find it interesting that we’re limiting the possibility of the amount of water so we could have more development that needs more water. That’s a little hard for me to take in,” council member Jenny Johnson said. “Ultimately, all of our residents will pay the extra cost for the smaller reservoir than the bigger reservoir.”

File photo shows Ivins Reservoir below capacity due to drought conditions, Ivins, Utah, April 13, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

With the council members seemingly expressing a unanimous opposition to the compromise,  a resolution at this Thursday’s council meeting, if approved, would express a desire from the council that the water district take all steps necessary to acquire by condemnation the land necessary to construct a reservoir at 2,000 to 2,500 acre-feet of water. 

“The majority of the council expressed their view at our last meeting that a future reservoir on this site ought to be as large as is practical to maximize future storage and it appears based on the agenda item that they are poised to provide the District that clear direction,” Ivins Mayor Chris Hart told St. George News.

Hart had encouraged the two sides to negotiate a mutual agreement in September but expressed his own disappointment that even after what he said were “huge” concessions by the water district, that Kayenta still had lingering issues.

“I have promoted a negotiated settlement between Terry Marten and the district and I think they came close to working out a compromise,” Hart said. “If they aren’t resolved by Thursday, the opportunity may pass.”

Anderson told St. George News it is premature to talk about the city voting to endorse an eminent domain process, as he said he is confident the developer, the city and the water district can work things out before Thursday. 

The land in a ravine at the end of Center Street owned by Kayenta Development that is being eyed by the Washington County Water Conservancy District as the site for a new reservoir, Ivins, Utah, Dec. 1, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I don’t think I’m worried about it. We’ve always tried working problems out. I think we’re going to figure out how to make it all work,” Anderson said. At the same time, when asked whether agreeing to the larger reservoir is possible, Anderson repeated what he said at the Nov. 11 council meeting that the project is conceptual and “the cost is a big thing and what it does to surrounding areas.”

One of those issues is the recreational possibilities of the new reservoir. Renstrom said like the Ivins Reservoir, where Fire Lake Park opened in 2016, it will ultimately be up to city and county officials to decide on recreation options for the new reservoir. 

Anderson said while some may see the positives of another area for families to swim on sandy beaches or water ski, the additional traffic would be a drawback.

“Fire Lake Park hasn’t been great for the neighbors,” Anderson said during the Nov. 18 meeting.

That comment developed into strong words exchanged between Anderson and the mayor. 

“Lance, I’m going to cut you off at the knees,” Hart said. “Ivins Reservoir was there long before any resident chose to build a home near there. And that would be the case here too.” 

Anderson responded that while no homes have been built on the land in question, plans have been made for the land to be used for homes. 

More loud back and forth between Anderson and Hart resulted in council member Dennis Mehr saying, “I think we need to end this discussion.”

Hart said the reservoir dispute won’t be an issue with Anderson coming to the council as a member, nor is the council trying to rush it through before Anderson becomes a member.

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart speaks during the formal dedication of the new Ivins City Hall, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 5, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Lance has said that he is opposed to the larger reservoir and would no doubt voice that opinion when seated on the council, but I suspect he would need to recuse himself if it came to a vote due to his conflict of interest over the development potential of that property,” Hart told St. George News.

According to both the water district and Kayenta, a full-size reservoir would not require the removal of existing homes, just reduce the amount of land for future homes on land owned by Kayenta. 

Renstrom said even a full-size reservoir may not be enough to satisfy the water needs of the Ivins area.

“Once this area is built out, we will have a deficit,” Renstrom said. “Even after this, I don’t know how we’re going to get the water on this side of the county in 20 to 30 years.”

Ed. note: An earlier version of this article stated that the golf course at Black Desert Resort at Entrada would use the reservoir’s water.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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