(ABC4) – Many cities and towns throughout Utah have lawn watering restrictions in place due to the state’s severe drought that prompted Governor Spencer Cox to declare a state of emergency and issue executive orders.
These restrictions, sometimes accompanied with fines and enforcement, are making a difference in saving water, water officials tell ABC4.com.
Robert Whiteley, Public Works Director of Syracuse City, says he has seen several improvements since the city adopted water restrictions and began enforcement on June 1.
“There have been a number of warnings, and fines that started going out around the mid part of June,” he says. “And after those started coming out, then we really noticed some improvements – the outflow of water that goes out of our reservoirs matches up with the inflow was coming in a lot better.”
Syracuse City is asking residents to water their lawns up to two days each week. Watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. is prohibited, according to the city’s website.
And though he has seen significant improvements, Whiteley says the city is still trying to get the word out to residents.
“It’s certainly not perfect. During the rainstorm I still saw sprinklers on in places. I don’t think the message is getting across to everyone, but we are trying every avenue we can to get information out there,” he says. “We actually have a town hall meeting scheduled tomorrow night at six o’clock at the City Hall, and we are going to be going over the drought status and updating the public on what’s happening with our water situation for this year.”
Syracuse has been rationing its water supply since receiving restrictions on water from suppliers, he explains.
The city has a four-tiered system when it comes to violations. On the first violation, residents will receive a warning and education on the topic. There is a $200 fine on the second violation and a $500 fine on the third. On the fourth violation, secondary water will be shut off for the remainder of the season, a meter will be installed, and the resident will receive a $1,000 fine.
“The first level is just a warning mainly because we want to get the information out to the people to say, here’s the information. Please change your sprinkler timer so that you can comply,” Whitely says.
So far the city has issued about 155 fines out of 9,000 services. There has been one termination of secondary water, according to Whitely.
Syracuse has a team that does water enforcement during daytime hours as well as nights, weekends, and holidays.
“That’s primarily where we’re seeing the violations is during the nights, weekends, and holidays. I think because a lot of people probably suspect that the city just doesn’t have enforcement at night because we’re closed during nights and weekends,” Whiteley explains.
The reason for the enforcement is mainly to help educate people, he says. Syracuse primarily receives water from the Echo Reservoir, which is really suffering, he states. At just 19% percent full, there is a threat of it potentially draining.
“It’s really detrimental. And the thing I really worry about is next year. This year, we’re rationing. We’re doing okay and people are doing okay,” according to Whiteley.
But it takes about two years of average precipitation to fill up Echo Reservoir, which “basically means we’re going to have to have one full year of heavy heavy precipitation,” he says. “We are in a drought. It really is real, and we have been reduced about 50% from where we were last year.”
Joining Syracuse, Lehi City implemented phase two of it’s water restriction plan at the end of May.
According to the city’s website, phase two “requires that there shall be no watering of outside areas at any individual owner on consecutive days. This means that watering shall occur at most every other day.”
“… if you start your cycle on one day, you need to wait 48 hours before you start your watering cycle again,” Dave Norman, Lehi City’s public works director, told ABC4.com in early June.
The city has not yet issued any citations, but residents have overall used less water this year than last year, Cameron Boyle, Assistant City Administrator, says.
At this time last year, Lehi City residents had used 10,135 acre feet of water, while this year residents have used only 8,716 acre feet. And this decrease comes with about 500 more users than last year.
The city has taken an educational approach to helping residents use less water, Boyle says. Lehi sends out messaging on Facebook to residents with messages about water conservation. For example, the city has posted about rebate programs for water-efficient timers.
Boyle says last week the city posted “reminding residents that because it’s raining it would be a good idea to shut off their sprinklers so that we don’t waste the savings that can benefit us from the rain and those types of things.”
In addition, the city receives reports from The Division of Water Resources’ reporting system. Boyle says city officials will go to that address and try to educate residents on the best way to water.
We can “help them understand that watering less can frequently actually benefit their grass if they let the roots grow deeper into the ground. And then there might be a sprinkler issue or something that we can help them to reset their timers and those types of things,” he explains.
Boyle says drought is an ongoing problem in the state of Utah.
“The reality is that we live in a desert, and year after year, we have concerns about water usage… If there’s no rainwater or snowfall in the winter that can accumulate and add to our resources, then there’s no water to use,” he states. “Because this is a multi-year process, it’s important for us to save each year so that we can accumulate our storage water and benefit us in years to come.”