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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Construction is nearly finished on Echo Dam in Summit County, Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

ECHO DAM, Summit County — It was deemed one of the most vulnerable to earthquakes or other natural disasters. Now crews are almost done with the upgrades to Echo Dam.

And with rising water levels, things are looking up for a community that has dealt with drought conditions.

In just a couple of weeks, the gates at Echo Resort in Summit County will be unlocked, picnic tables will be full of food and boats will be out on the water.

“It’s going to definitely be better than last year,” said Stacy Bird, one of the managers at Echo Resort. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

The past couple of years haven’t been good for business. Drought conditions have kept Echo Reservoir so low that many boaters, fishermen and other water lovers stayed away.

For those who still came to Echo, Bird said, she had to keep explaining why there was hardly any water.

“You just tell them that they need it down below for the livestock, for irrigation, and hopefully next year will be better,” Bird said. “It’s nerve-wracking. Unknowing is not good. It was horrible.”

However, this year, conditions are already looking better. Not only is the water level increasing, 4 inches in one night alone, but construction crews working on the Echo Dam upgrades are almost finished.

“This is a great day for not only the Bureau of Reclamation, but for the roughly 300,000 people who rely on the water here,” said Wayne Pullan, the deputy area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Crews started working on the dam five years ago. A safety analysis for Echo Dam found that dirt at its foundation and underneath the spillway controls could liquefy in an earthquake.

“The concern was a portion of the dam might slump and we could have potential overtopping of the dam,” said Pullan. “The old dam was a great 1930s dam. It met 1930s standards. Now, we have a dam that meets today's standards.”

The upgrades to the dam cost $33 million, which is lower than the original $50 million estimate. Taxpayers will pay 85 percent of that cost. The other 15 percent will be paid by water users of Echo Reservoir.

“The best thing for the public is they can drive past Echo and be confident this is the best science and engineering have to offer and they can be confident this dam is going to serve them for decades into the future,” said Pullan. “I’d feel good putting my house directly below that dam and living there until I die."

Email: acabrero@deseretnews.com