Quail Creek reservoir credited with supporting 30 years of growth

HURRICANE – Dedicated 30 years ago this month, the Quail Creek Reservoir is credited by water officials as being one of the reasons Washington County has been able to grow and prosper in recent decades.

Quail Creek reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Quail Creek Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We’d categorize it as one of the crown jewels in our water system,” said Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

Dedicated on Sept. 30, 1985, construction on the reservoir began in 1982 and was the first major water project Thompson was involved in after joining the water district.

Quail Creek has a storage capacity of 40,000 acre-feet of water and covers a surface area of about 680 acres. At peak use it is estimated to provide 40 million gallons of treated water to the county’s municipalities daily, and provides an estimated annual total of 6.5 billion gallons.

The estimated value of the water provided is $30 million, according to an economic impact report from the water district.

Quail Creek is primarily filled with water diverted from the Virgin River through an 8.5 mile pipeline that ranges in width from 72 to 54 inches.

Quail Creek reservoir and the west dam, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Quail Creek Reservoir and the west dam, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In the mid-1980s, the county’s population was about 36,000 people, with an annual tax base of around $100 million dollars, Thompson said. Today the county has over 150,000 residents with an annual tax base of around $15 billion.

As water is considered a key factor in the growth and prosperity in the county, Thompson credits the Quail Creek Reservoir for playing a part in supporting that growth.

“Obviously the kind of growth we’ve had would not have had occurred had we not had the water,” he said.

Construction of the Quail Creek Reservoir cost over $20 million, which was bonded for by the county. The multi-million dollar bond was approved by more than 90 percent of the county’s resident’s, Thompson said. The support was significant and drowned out objecting voices at the time, he said.

Welcome to Quail Creek State Park, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Welcome to Quail Creek State Park, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“There was a group (opposed to the reservoir),” Thompson said, “….(they) said we don’t need the project and we can’t pay for it and so forth.”

An associated water treatment plant was built and began operations in 1989.

“It’s a tremendous asset to the county,” Thompson said, referring not only to the water the reservoir provides, but also the economic driver it has become because of its recreational draw.

According to the water district study of Quail Creek, the reservoir produces an estimated annual economic output of $75.7 million. The reservoir has also provided for the creation of 518 jobs in the county.

Over 75,000 people visited Quail Creek State Park in 2014, according to the economic impact study.

Quail Creek reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Quail Creek Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“The reservoir continues to serve to us well as a community and one of the features (that) I think gets a tremendous amount of recreational value,” Thompson said. “That contributes to jobs in the community and to our overall economy.”

Since Quail Creek’s creation, other reservoirs have been built and regional pipelines established to ensure residents receive water. Multiple redundancies have also been established along the way to ensure a continuity of service.

“It’s a fairly extensive network,” Thompson said.

Dam break

No story concerning the history of Quail Creek Reservoir is complete without mentioning the dam break that occurred just after midnight of New Year’s Day 1989.

After the dam’s construction and dedication, the west earthen dam had some leakage issues, which Thompson said were caused by a piping failure.

Welcome to Quail Creek reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Welcome to Quail Creek Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The problem grew dramatically worse, and according to the Washington County Historical Society, a 200-foot section of the dam burst open and more than 25,000-acre feet of water flooded into the Virgin River channel.

The resulting damage displaced over 1,500 people as homes and apartments were flooded. Damage was also done to roads, bridges and farms caught in the floodwater’s path.

No lives were lost in the disaster, which was estimated to have caused over $12 million in damages.

Following the dam break, Thompson said, the work of rebuilding it began almost immediately. In place of the earthen dam, one of the early roller-compacted concrete dams with a foundation that extends 75 feet below the surface was built.

Life-long St. George resident Brett Barrett said he remembers where he was the night the dam broke, because it happened shortly after he proposed to his wife that night.

“The cosmos may not have been ready for our union,” Barrett said.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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