Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo
As pioneers marched west, it was land that people held dear and grabbed up by the acre.
Now, this high desert is dealing with an increasingly severe drought with many looking at the dangers of climate change. The grab for land has changed, and now Utah County cities are working to protect water rights and reserves.
As temperatures continue to hit triple digits this summer, city and state leaders are hoping that residents will be water wise.
Residents of Provo can thank the forward thinking leaders of the early 1900s who purchased water rights, dug wells and utilized aquifers to have an abundance of water available today.
“Of course we aren’t getting as much rain as we would like,” said Dixon Holmes, assistant chief administrative officer. “However, the education to conserve is working.”
Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald
Holmes said there are no penalties or restrictions currently in place, and he does not foresee that need through this year and into the future.
“Provo has been prudent in acquisition of water rights. Our aquifer storage is important. We are building a water treatment plant that takes the river water, cleans and recharges the aquifers,” Holmes said. “Of course we encourage residents to be smart like don’t water lawns in mid-day. We’re never for wasting water.”
“Based on our most recent measurements, our water supplies are at about 90% of average,” said Chris Tschirki, director of public works. “While that is obviously not ideal, Orem is a lot better off than it could be and we attribute this in large part to the efforts of our residents to save water.”
Tschirki added that resident water usage was down 18% (1.5 billion gallons) last year and is trending down this year as well. Orem is also planning for the future, as it has several major water projects underway that will help secure the city’s water needs into the coming decades.
“We’re drilling a new well at 400 West and 400 South as well as building a 10 million gallon underground storage facility. Soon we’ll start our water reuse project which will improve water use efficiency at key points in the city,” Tschirki said.
Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo
Smaller and faster growing cities in the county are also working to provide a healthy water future for the anticipated growth in the county. That growth is expected to reach one million by 2035. Vineyard is one of the fastest growing of those communities.
For Vineyard, Mayor Julie Fullmer focuses on five main points for water conservation — partnerships, planning, engineering, building and education.
“We additionally have a focus on the Utah Lake waterfront to remove invasive species reportedly taking 10 times the water consumption that a native plant consumes. This includes a 600 acre conservative project called Walkara Way that is utilizing cattle to remove these reeds,” Fullmer said. “Our future use is being prioritized in general plans, sustainability programs and master-planned developments within the city and regional development which are directing building, planning and future agriculture toward efficient water use and reuse.”
Ezra Nair, city manager, also noted a decrease in water use despite an increasing population.
“Comparing the water usage of the first half of 2022 to that used in the first half of 2021, Vineyard has saved over 19 million gallons of water. Because of Vineyard’s high density, less water is being used overall as irrigation is the heaviest burden in residential areas,” Nair said.
Courtesy Orem city
Spanish Fork has a total of 33,375 acre-feet in actual water rights, according to Water Division Manager John Waters, with approximately 325,900 gallons of water in one acre. Waters said in the past five years, Spanish Fork has averaged 4,149 acre-feet in drinking water and 6,266 acre-feet used in pressurized irrigation each year.
“It’s hard to say how long the levels will hold steady. However, we have seen a slight decrease in flow with the springs and river flow,” Waters said. “Our reserves get replenished as often as we get participation.”
In an effort to preserve future water, Waters said all new developments in the city are required to have detention basins to contain storm water and “let it percolate back into the ground instead of piping it to rivers and streams.”
On the Spanish Fork city website are several steps the city is taking to conserve water.
The Smart Controller Project gives residents a free smart controller for their pressurized irrigation system to adjust sprinkler watering schedules to water less during rainy and peak demand times.
Don Allphin, Special to the Herald
The city’s water division has a system of meters that help identify customer leaks throughout the city, according to the website. Spanish Fork offers financial incentive for residents to water less through the city’s pressurized irrigation and tiered rates system.
Springville gets its water from three different sources — surface water, seven deep wells and four natural underground spring complexes. In a regular year, city wells would produce approximately 14,800 gallons per minute and springs produced an average of 5,870 GPM, according to Springville Public Works Director Bradley Stapley. During drought years, the springs produced an average of 2,166 GPM.
“The city currently has sufficient water rights to service its citizen’s needs,” Stapley said. “Developers of undeveloped land are required to render water rights to the City sufficient to cover their development needs with respect to culinary and/or secondary water. It is anticipated that existing water rights within the City boundaries and other sources, both culinary and surface, are sufficient to fulfill the city’s needs through buildout.”
Springville citizens are reminded through the city’s newsletter to conserve water. A tiered water rate is also used which encourages citizens to be prudent with water, according to Stapley.
“The city recently completed and submitted to the State a draft Water Conservation Plan,” he said. The plan is expected to be formally adopted by the City Council during the year.
Mapleton Public Works Director Steven Lord said the city has a reliable annual water supply of approximately 7,900 acre-feet.
“This amount of water is expected to meet the demand of the drinking water and pressurized irrigation systems for at least the next 10 years,” Lord said. “In 2021, Mapleton used just under 4,000 acre-feet of water. Our water supply is replenished with groundwater, natural springs and Strawberry Reservoir.”
Mapleton is also designing a “spring rehabilitation project” which will better use the water from Maple Canyon. To encourage water conservation, the city asks residents to water outside of peak times.
“We meter our water systems to ensure our customers know how much water they consume,” Lord said. “We also have a tiered rate structure, which promotes conservation through pricing. We also adopted the water wise planting guide to assist homeowners with water-wise landscaping and to encourage participation in the Flip your Strip program.”
Mapleton is currently working on a project to connect its pressurized irrigation system to the Central Utah Water Conservancy District pipe network to bypass its storage reservoir, resulting in less water loss from evaporation.
Elk Ridge Mayor Robert Haddock wasn’t exactly sure how much water the city had in reserves.
“I don’t know that we’ve had engineering or studies tell us how much,” he said. “It’s not an easy computation. Even the best studies would be a guess, but I know the drought is not helping us.”
The city functions on three main wells, and Haddock said they have all been producing well.
There aren’t any water mandates in the steadily-growing city of Elk Ridge, but the city recommends that residents with even numbered addresses water lawns on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and odd numbered addresses on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Everyone is encouraged not to water on Sundays.
“We have come up with a water plan,” said Haddock. “The state wanted us to come up with something projected up to 2025. I think we may be considering some other options. I think we have about one more month of heavy water use and then we hope for a good winter. We are just following state guidelines and what they require us to do.”
The irrigation system for Saratoga Springs draws from Utah Lake, wells, canals and irrigation ponds. In an effort to conserve water, the city has reduced irrigation water allotments by 20%, effective last Sunday through the end of the irrigation season on Oct. 15, and has also reduced watering in parks and recreational areas.
“Through the month of July they reduced water use in non-high use areas by 40% allowing the grass to stress and go dormant,” reads a press release from the city. “You might notice that the grass is yellow on top, but they are watering enough to keep the roots healthy in preparation of a better irrigation year.”
Saratoga Springs has a web page dedicated to water conservation detailing the city’s plans for saving water and offering tips on how residents can conserve water both indoors and outdoors.
Lehi City gets its water from five wells and a spring. The city is currently under Phase 3 Watering Restrictions, which is a part of Lehi’s Water Shortage Management Plan implemented during times of severe water shortage. Under Phase 3 Watering Restrictions, Lehi users may not water more than two days a week and must wait at least two days between watering cycles. Additionally, hard surface washing is not allowed except for health and safety reasons.
According to a post made Wednesday to the Lehi City Facebook page, Lehi water users saved 5,213,622 gallons of pressurized irrigation water compared to this time last year, about 15% less water usage than the five-year average for this same week.
More information on Lehi’s Water Shortage Management Plan can be found on the city website.
American Fork City’s water system draws water from springs originating in American Fork Canyon, as well as deep wells from the aquifer.
“Every year, our water usage is greater than the reserves. Our over-usage contributes to our water resource diminishing each year without getting replenished for future use,” reads the American Fork City website. “If we keep on the current rate of water usage, we will actually run out of water!”
In recent conservation efforts, the city has a water management team that tracks usage and gives recommendations to help it stay within its water limits. In an effort to conserve water, the city recently began installing a pressurized irrigation water meter on all existing P.I. connections in the city, which will take several years to complete.
Chandler Goodwin, city manager for Cedar Hills, is optimistic about the city’s current water situation.
“Right now, our water situation, we’re okay,” he said. “We get our water from a number of different sources whether it’s pumped from the ground, we also get ditch water, water from the canyon, and we also have a certain number of shares from the central Utah Water Project.”
According to Goodwin, it’s this diversity of water sources that has helped to keep water flowing in the city. It’s likely that Cedar Hills won’t use all of its water shares from the Central Utah Water Project because it has enough water from other sources to last through peak usage season.
However, the city is still focused on conserving water. According to Goodwin, Cedar Hills has reduced watering in its city parks and also asked local golf courses and residents to cut back on their water usage.
“Surprisingly enough, we actually have seen a reduction in use just from a general awareness of the need to conserve water right now,” he said. “In the years past I’ve come in from the weekend and on a Sunday where we don’t allow watering the tanks will be drained. And now it seems like there are a lot of weeks that will go by where people aren’t using as much water, and they’re choosing to.”