Officials from Payson City and Utah County joined members of the Strawberry Water Users Association on Tuesday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new diversion dam in Payson Canyon.

The diversion dam lies just up the road of Camp Maple Dell and approximately 6 miles from downtown Payson. It is located on Peteetneet Creek, the only source of water for the Strawberry Water Users Association’s hydroelectric power plant in Payson.

The new structure replaces the original dam that Payson officials constructed in 1935 using a head gate structure and wooden checker boards, according to Lynn Swenson, president of the Strawberry Water Users Association.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, Swenson said that the original dam was “ruined” during the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires in 2018, which “resulted in significant debris flows down Peteetneet Creek.”

Officials initially replaced the destroyed dam with a temporary structure “until necessary resources were secured, leading us to this new construction,” he said.

But the old dam was in need of replacement even before the 2018 wildfires, according to Chad Knapp, operations manager of Strawberry Water Users Association, who said the association worked on a few concepts with Payson City to see “how to try to make this work.”

“Then the fire happened and blew it all apart,” said Knapp, “and put us into fast-forward (mode) instead of having the time to be able to really work through it.”

The new dam, which construction crews began working on in October 2020, is made of more than 100 yards of concrete. It also has multiple features aimed at controlling debris and preventing water flow disruption.

“There (were) a lot of long nights on the old structure trying to keep debris floating through here,” Knapp acknowledged.

Sterling Brown, general manager of the Strawberry Water Users Association, noted that the primary function of the dam is “to divert water for hydro-generating purposes,” as well as to “provide secondary water for Payson City residents and irrigation water for southern Utah County farmers.”

Partners on the dam project include Payson City, the Utah County Public Works Department, JUB Engineers, U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Division of Water Rights.

Payson City Manager David Tuckett praised the new structure and said it was well past time to replace the old dam.

“It’s been on its last leg for awhile,” he said.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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