Syracuse says secondary water situation is dire

Jun 22 2013 - 9:25pm

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SYRACUSE -- Summer is just beginning and the secondary water situation in Syracuse is already dire, city officials say.

Mayor Jamie Nagle on Friday posted on Facebook a picture of Jensen Pond that shows how the level of the pond serving as one of the city's three secondary water reservoirs has noticeably fallen.

Since June 1, the pond in the Jensen Nature Park has dropped three feet, said Sherrie Christensen, director of community and economic development for Syracuse.

Because of this spring's light runoff, the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co. has reduced the secondary water allotment to each city it serves by 25 percent, Christensen said.

The reduction, combined with the city's reservoir ponds being down -- the city only being able to draw six more inches off the level of Jensen Pond before it exceeds its water rights on that reservoir -- has created a concern that the city could deplete its secondary water supply before summer ends.

The city owns water rights only to the top four feet of Jensen Pond, a condition elected city leaders agreed to in order to have the federal government provide funding to develop the pond.

One condition specified by the federal government was for the city to never allow the pond to fall below a depth of 16 feet in protecting the reservoir's fish population.

Despite that, the city council has yet to implement mandatory water restrictions, hoping residents will police themselves.

Some question the council's decision, inferring it may be political as result of it being an election year.

The city attorney did draft an ordinance to put in mandatory watering restrictions, but the council, by a 3-2 vote, declined to adopt those into ordinance form, Christensen said.

"They are voluntary water restrictions. We are counting on our citizens to step up and do the right thing."

The council's decision to not implement mandatory water restrictions has nothing to do with this year's elections, said Councilman Brian Duncan, who is running for re-election.

The council wants residents to govern themselves, Duncan told the Standard Examiner in a phone interview Friday from Florida.

The city has experienced water shortages before, Duncan said, and "for 80 years, citizens have done a pretty good of policing themselves."

The council has responded to the water shortage by encouraging voluntary water restrictions.

"Sometimes when government steps in, they never step out," said Duncan, who opposed mandatory watering restrictions. So did council members Karianne Lisonbee and Craig Johnson.

The four-year terms of Johnson and Lisonbee expire in 2015.

Attempts to reach Johnson for comment were unsuccessful.

"It seems that the water situation may be worsening. In my conversations with staff, I have been informed that if our retention ponds get too low, we will turn our pumps off to prevent damage," Lisonbee said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.

"I renew my encouragement to our citizens to continue to conserve their water usage to the watering schedule the city has prescribed," she said.

"While all communities in Utah are facing water shortages this year, some more than others, Syracuse is in a unique position with our irrigation or secondary water. Thanks to the foresight of past leaders, we are one of the only cities that owns its water shares."

When presented with the water situation and restrictions implemented by the canal company, the council directed staff to publish a statement informing residents about this year's shortages and a watering schedule for them to follow to help alleviate the impact of the shortage, Lisonbee said.

"I have been informed by our staff that citizens have conscientiously contacted them to ask if they can switch days because they will be out of town on 'their watering day.'

"One of the citizens who contacted me commented that his lawn is dying because he is following the watering schedule prescribed by the council and staff. My lawn is also struggling," Lisonbee said.

To further encourage residents, a group of volunteers has made fliers encouraging water conservation and has been delivering them door to door, Christensen said.

The problem is, the snow the Wasatch Front received this winter mainly fell on the west side of the slope, resulting in the runoff flowing into Great Salt Lake rather than into the reservoirs, Christensen said.

"We need rain."

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