WASHINGTON CITY — Members of the Washington County Water Conservancy District have been visiting the councils of the county’s various municipalities with a list of recommendations for water use and conservation. The potential ordinances would be primarily applied to new construction.
“The vast majority of things we’re talking about tonight have already been implemented,” Zach Renstrom, general manager of the water district, told the Washington City Council during their work meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The proposed standards Renstrom shared included indoor and outdoor requirements to be applied to new homes and residences that had a secondary water system.
Some of the proposed requirements are already being practiced, he said, such as installing Energy Star-labeled appliances and WaterSense-certified fixtures. These, along with requiring new homes to be outfitted with a hot water circulation system, individual metering for multifamily units and installing water-smart irrigation controllers and other measures were met with a general sense of agreement by the council.
However, the questions began when Renstrom made suggestions on limiting irrigated landscaping to 2,500 square feet and lawns to 750 square feet on lots, regardless of their size. Some council members were concerned by the “one-size-fits-all” recommendation.
Council member Craig Coats said he would rather see a ratio on the landscape and grass limits based on the lot size.
Additional objections were raised when it was suggested the city not approve new homes for occupancy unless they met all of the potential requirements, including having the landscaping of the property – both front and backyards – completed.
“It took me three years to do my backyard,” Coats said.
Renstrom suggested a way around this could be a grace period of sorts allowing the property to be sold and occupied without the backyard being completed. However the new homeowners would have to make sure they met the landscaping requirements after two years of moving in and hopefully not go overboard with installing an excessive amount of grass and landscaping otherwise.
Coats said it was “just more regulation on personal property.”
Conversely, council member Doug Ward appeared to be in favor of implementing some conservation requirements, as he said he believes it will prompt city residents to be creative in how they use and save water.
Following the work meeting, Renstrom said the lot size and certification for occupancy rules based on the proposed requirements were a common concern among the cities visited by the water district so far.
An overarching concern is adding to the overall cost of a new home due to the additional measures the water district is suggesting. Someone’s backyard, for example, could run an additional $10,000 to complete, Renstrom said, adding they don’t want to price potential home buyers out of the market due to additional costs.
During the Washington City meeting, council member Kurt Ivie said mandates and requirements “end up costing homeowners a lot of money.”
Still, it is good the discussion on what to do about water conservation is happening, Renstrom said, adding that the water district is making the suggestions, and they want cities to give them feedback.
“This discussion we had tonight was awesome,” he said. “Everyone’s agreed that we have to do something. There’s no question that we need to take steps to conserve water and to be really wise with our water use. … All the big stuff is agreed on, but it’s the little things that still need work.”
As the water district has little to no enforcement power on how water is used by county residents, it will be left up to the county and cities to enforce any new water conservation measures they may adopt.
“It falls back on the cities; now we’re the bad guys,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said, adding he still feels teaching people how to correctly use and conserve their water is the best practice.
“We need to reeducate ourselves on how we use our water,” he said. “Yet, at some some point, we’re going to have to take the onus upon ourselves, and if you’re not going to do it, you know who is? It’s Big Brother. That’s not the way we want to go.”
Renstrom is also a proponent of educating water users on how best to use their water, and recently praised county residents on the job they were doing overall to conserve water during the drought. The water district has programs and classes in place to help people become more efficient in their water use and landscaping practices.
Still, “there’s only so much you can do with education,” he said.
No action was taken on the proposed measure Wednesday as Renstrom’s presentation was more focused on generating discussion and feedback for the time being.
Other cities Renstrom said the water district has approached so far include Ivins, LaVerkin, Santa Clara and St. George.
Washington City Manager Jeremy Redd summed up Wednesday’s discussion by saying they all “want to find the solution that saves the most water yet is the least heavy-handed.”
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