ST. GEORGE — Last year the county and its municipalities came together to pass the strictest water conservation ordinances in the state for new construction. This year, another plan is being developed in response to increasing drought conditions and disasters, both natural and manmade, that threaten the county’s water supply.
“It’s more than a drought contingency plan,” Zach Renstrom, the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said. “It’s an emergency response plan.”
While necessitated by the increasing severity of the regional drought that has gripped the West over the last 20 years, the contingency plan also is being crafted as a response to other potential disasters that could cripple the water supply and availability in the county. This may include an earthquake that causes a reservoir dam to collapse or a human-caused disaster that contaminates the county’s reservoirs.
A part of the plan is to outline what the municipalities and the water district are responsible for once it is enacted, Renstrom said.
As for the actual plan, it is still being drafted between the water district and the municipalities within the county. Water officials anticipated the plan will be finished and adopted about six months from now.
Elements of the Washington County Drought Contingency Plan sound similar to a draft of the Utah Drought Response Plan published in April 2022.
Both plans provide a framework for a coordinated response to a drought emergency and are set to go into effect based on various factors that trigger stages of the plan.
“The ‘trigger points’ that will determine the stage of drought will be developed from multiple data sources and system modeling based on Supply (snow pack, soil moisture, stream flow, reservoir levels, etc) and Demand (growth, temperature, etc.),” Scott Taylor, the water services director for the city of St. George, said in an email about the proposed county plan.
“In each stage of drought, there will be various action items for residents, municipalities, and the (water district),” he said.
The state plan lists five levels of drought actions while the Washington County plan has four, according to Taylor’s email. However, both are similar in action by promoting education and calling for voluntary water-saving measures among the public with county and state agencies setting an example for outdoor water conservation
“It’s not just one step – it’s a series of steps,” Renstrom said. “The goal of each step is to avoid moving to the next one.”
However, should conditions require it, additional measures of the plan will mandate a reduction in water use with outdoor watering on residential properties likely being the first target. Additional reductions may include cutting water used in industrial, construction and commercial applications in order to “keep water in the pipes” for the general health of the public.
General health, as Renstrom described it, includes having drinking water and water for indoor plumbing and bathing needs.
At an extreme stage of drought, the state plan recommends “restrictions which change our usual experience.” This includes a moratorium on new connections to a public water service and closing water recreation areas like marinas and boat ramps, among other measures.
While cutting water to construction may be a necessary step in a “doomsday scenario,” Renstrom said, it also poses an economic threat to the county, as around 20-30% of the county is employed in the construction industry. Stopping construction would not only have a chill on that sector of the local economy but also the industries that support it, he added.
Those supporting industries include various material suppliers, as well as retail outlets and restaurants.
“It would be like 2008 all over again, which was brutal,” Renstrom said, referring to the onset of the Great Recession.
As allowed under state law, the water district could also approach farmers and use their water – temporarily and with due compensation – to supply water for county water users. A recent change made to the law will allow this water to be used for electrical generation.
Overall, however, the county’s drought plan only affects the water systems of the county’s municipalities and water district and does not target agricultural water sources, Renstrom said.
“In a lot of ways this drought contingency plan is kind of a doomsday scenario,” Renstrom said, “but the worst time to plan for doomsday is when it’s occurring.”
The water manager added that he doesn’t expect to see the drought become this severe within his lifetime, but it if does, “at least we’re prepared for it.”
Concerning the state of the county’s current water supply, the snow and rain storms that have occurred over the last three months have helped lessen the impact of the ongoing drought and helped refill the county’s reservoirs to a degree. Snowpack in southwestern Utah is estimated to be 208% above normal as of Friday evening and is considered the best snowpack level in 25 years.
Water conservation efforts, more water-efficient building practices, as well as the use of new technology and the harvesting of former water sources that were previously considered financially prohibitive, the life of the county’s overall water supply is being extended, Renstrom said.
This is subject to change depending upon the booming growth of the county and the demand for water that comes with it. Renstrom was hesitant to estimate how long the county’s water supply may last due to this, factor, as the county has outpaced growth projections made for the state agencies for many years now.
However, if the county continued on without implementing the water conservation practices and infrastructure, Renstrom said the water supply may last for another decade.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.
Support Lumiserver & Cynesys on Tipeee
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.
Now you can get a free first transfer up to 500£ with your ESNcard. You can access this offer here.