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As Utah's drought gets worse, some cities threaten fines and shutoffs for water wasters

Posted at 3:40 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 20:11:18-04

SYRACUSE, Utah — As the state's drought situation continues to worsen, communities across Utah are starting to implement more severe water restrictions.

Syracuse has put residents on a strict schedule of watering lawns on a schedule based on their address — and never during the hours of 10am and 6pm, when water is most likely to evaporate.

"City wide we’re asking for no water on Sunday. There’s nothing special about Sunday, we simply need to refill our reservoirs with the low supply of water," said Robert Whiteley, Syracuse's public works director.

He said their water resources are half of what they were last year because of Utah's drought emergency. To ensure people water less outdoors, they're threatening fines and water shut offs. Violators will get a warning at first. A second violation gets a $100 fine, a third goes up to $250. A fourth violation will get the secondary water shut off for the year.

READ: In Utah drought, 'exceptionally dry' is no longer exceptional

Syracuse isn't alone. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to a large part of northern Utah, is instituting a "three strikes you're out" rule. They have printed up hang tags to go on doors warning of a complaint about water wasting or it was observed by a district staffer.

"Really reduce their water use," district director Tage Flint told FOX 13. "If not, we are prepared to turn their secondary water service off for the year."

Secondary water, which is usually untreated for lawns and outdoor use, is a different system than culinary water, or drinking water.

The water situation is absolutely severe, said Candice Hosenyager, the deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. Roughly 90% of the state is now in an extreme or exceptional drought category, the worst there is.

"We are projecting poor to the worst on record throughout the summer," Hosenyager said Monday. "Really, all of us doing our part to water less is critical."

The Great Salt Lake, one of the largest lakes in North America, is projected to be at a historic low this summer.

"We have not had a break, right? We had a hot, dry summer last year. Exceptionally dry soils. Below average snow accumulation during the winter time and a dry spring to boot," said Hosenyager.

Agriculture use, typically a big water user for the food supply, has also been cut and more is being done to monitor that use (farmers are also slashing crops). But the state is pressing communities to take measures to get residential users to comply. The Division of Water Resources is urging residents to switch to twice a week watering.

Governor Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency for drought, imposing what conservation measures he can on state facilities. But local water districts have power over communities, and each one will be different because the drought situation is different across much of the state.

Flint said the effort to get people to switch to twice a week watering may lead to brown lawns, but it averts a bigger crisis next year with more restrictions forced on Utahns if things don't improve.

"Two times a week watering only. That will be a change for most people. We understand that. We understand what that might put you through in terms of your landscape this year. We can assure you’ll landscapes will be fine," Flint said.

Right now, drinking water supply is not threatened butreservoirs are at some of the lowest levels they have ever been.

"All of us need to do our part to reduce our water use and get through this drought," Hosenyager said.

For more information on conservation measures, click here.