ST. GEORGE, Utah — Even in years with higher precipitation, officials at the Washington County Water Conservancy District take extra care when allocating water. This year, with record heat and dry conditions statewide, things are even tighter.
The conservancy district is implementing strict water policies to help minimize the impacts of an extreme drought affecting more than 90% of the state.
"Based upon the recordings on the river and up in the mountains, right now, this is going to be driest year that we have ever had since we've been taking record," said Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager, Zachary Renstrom.
He and others at the conservancy district are as ready as any agency can be for a historic drought like this one.
"Preparing for this drought has actually occurred for years and years and years in advance," he said. "Building the infrastructure that we need to deal with it."
Even with all the pre-planning, some strict measures need to be implemented during these challenging times.
"Our cities right now are in the process of doing their own evaluation of their own water use, and they are going to start letting lawn turn brown," Renstrom added. "Just simply stop irrigating lawn."
They have asked cities in Washington County to reduce their water use by an additional 10 percent, a move that Renstrom said could save millions of gallons.
"The city [St. George] is one of our largest water users, which makes sense because they have so many facilities such as parks and golf courses," he said. "And if they can cut 10 percent, that's significant."
St. George has taken the lead on these efforts with Mayor Michelle Randall announcing major cutbacks to city water use at a council meeting Thursday. She said the city is looking into new ordinances and restrictions that could help further reduce water usage, such as ordinances limiting the amount of turf sod allowed in new developments.
Washington County Water Conservancy District also announced new "Excess Water Usage Surcharges," starting at $1 per 1,000 gallons for the county's highest water users.
"Our top twenty to 25% of water users are consuming about 40% of our water," Renstrom said. "With the funds that will be generated with the surcharge, our goal is to take essentially take those funds and put it right into conservation programs."
The surcharges will appear on an additional line on water bills and include tips on how residents can cut back on water usage to avoid the fees.
Renstrom is praising how Southern Utah residents are responding to the strict measures put in place.
"Our citizens here in this state are awesome, and if you simply just ask them, the vast majority of our citizens love our environment, they love our communities and they will respond," he said. "We just have to help them understand they steps they need to take."
He added that Washington County's model for water conservation could—and should—be used as an example for other cities and communities around the state, adding that pre-planning and infrastructure development are key in drought response.