Crews rebuilding portions of historic dam built in 1930s

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah - A historic dam along the Santa Clara River in is getting an upgrade, even though it’s not currently functional

This week, construction crews began moving rocks at the old Shem Dam, also called the Winsor Dam. It’s preparatory work for rebuilding portions of the 70-year-old structure.

“We had some significant erosion under the left abutment of the dam,” said Washington County Public Works Director Ron Whitehead.

It’s a project the county has been looking at for the past few years. Whitehead said the aging dam has eroded away during floods over the past decade, and there’s a significant risk of it completely washing away.

“It was better to repair this, rather than rebuild it to a full dam state and have to go through all the safety requirements,” Whitehead said.

Shem Dam was completed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has historical significance to the area as being one of the first diversion dams along the river, and integral for irrigation in the area.

The dam sits on the Shivwits Paiute Indian Reservation, and the county has worked with the tribal council to ensure local cultural sites aren’t disturbed.

“There’s a lot of history there that people don’t know about,” Whitehead said. “But from my purpose, it’s mainly to protect those bridges downstream.”

The $1.6 million rehabilitation project is primarily funded through federal Natural Resources Conservation Service funds. The rehab is just one of many projects the county has done to address flooding issues.

The local historical society wants to document the progress, so crews will need to work around their schedule. They hope to have the project complete by the end of May.

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