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Dry Creek Reservoir plans sinking; Council and staff disagree about its future

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The Dry Creek Reservoir was planned as a reservoir and regional park with paved parking, restrooms, recreation rentals, food concessions, a sandy beach, a fish station, and a pier, is on the brink of being defunct.

“There are obviously pros and cons with whatever route we take,” said Lehi City Manager Jason Walker, to begin discussing the Dry Creek Reservoir in Tuesday's city council meeting. Most city staffers expressed doubt about the project moving forward and cited several hurdles to the project's eventual completion.

Lehi City Parks Director Steve Marchbanks spoke first and said his concerns regarded maintenance, upkeep and how to limit public access if the reservoir were opened as a recreational park.

“We would need at least one full-time employee and two or three seasonal employees to service the area. Anything less than that would be doing ourselves a disservice,” said Marchbanks.

“This facility was built as a sediment detention basin and flood control structure. That is the intent of the facility as it sits today... Having it empty through May allows us to control flooding and protect the residents of downtown Lehi. A challenge with inviting the public is the varying nature of water runoff and weather,” said Lehi Water Department Manager Greg Allred.

“This isn't a facility where we can keep a steady water level throughout a recreation season; it would be highly variable... We need to use this facility as it was designed for and it doesn't really play well with recreation,” added Lehi Public Works Director Dave Norman, when discussing varying levels of spring water runoff.

While city staff expressed their concerns and doubts about the project's viability, the City Council and Mayor pushed back and asked for answers about how the City got to this point.

“This project started well over six years ago. When I became Mayor, I was really excited about the plans, and the general public was too. What concerns me is how we got from spending all the money on designing what was going to be a great recreational facility to where we are today, saying it's not good for recreation,” inquired Mayor Mark Johnson.

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“I brought up my concerns internally that this wouldn't work without a pressurized irrigation pipeline. I didn't bring it up in public meetings because I didn't know if it was my place to do so. I apologize. I wasn't involved in the designing or early-on plans for the park,” replied Norman.

“We can make the pretty picture, but it just costs money,” added Walker.

“It would be over $20 million now. We would also need to purchase additional water to maintain its water levels, even after the pipeline cost,” concluded Norman.

The project was previously approved for a $1.5 million grant from Utah County through the TRCC tax (Tourism, Recreation, Cultural, Convention, and Airport Facilities Tax) to assist in funding the project and a $700,000 grant from the Metropolitan Water District. The TRCC grant will expire in December, but City officials indicated that the Utah County Commission is willing to extend the timeline and support the project vision.

“We could likely do the basic necessities without costing the City anything. There would be a maintenance issue, but this would be a very popular park. A good bang for our buck,” said Councilwoman Michelle Stallings, who supports moving forward with making the reservoir a recreational site.

“I'm concerned we're throwing money at something that can't be used. I'm not saying kill it, but we need to be cautious,” said Councilman Paul Hancock.

“This shouldn't fall on one city. It benefits a much larger area than just Lehi. We need to work with the County, State and neighboring cities. I would really love to see something happen, but we need to pursue other entities' involvement,” added Councilwoman Heather Newall.

While the parks, water and public works department staff expressed opposition to the project, the engineering department mentioned its desire to be completed.

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“For the $1.5 million grant (from Utah County) and $700k grant (from MWD), we can get a 200-car parking lot, sandy beach, eight stall restrooms, and fish cleaning station that has already been bought and paid for,” said a representative from the engineering department during Tuesday's meeting.

“We're asking for tempered expectations,” said City Manager Jason Walker, concluding the conversation by clarifying that the city staff isn't necessarily opposed to the reservoir becoming a recreational facility, but there are many challenges to resolve.

Mayor Mark Johnson asked the multiple departments to collaborate in finding a plan that would work for all stakeholders and bring it back to the Council at a future meeting.