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Ogden City officials discuss early water facility closure, fireworks enforcement

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Jun 16, 2021

OGDEN — Ogden City is hoping for the best but gearing up for the worst when it comes to the ongoing drought.

During a Tuesday night City Council meeting, Ogden’s Water Utility Manager Brady Herd said the city could shut down its water treatment plant at the base of Pineview Reservoir weeks earlier than it ever has, consequently shutting down one of the city’s largest water sources.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100% of Weber County is in a “severe drought,” the third most significant drought classification under the NIDIS monitoring system. NIDIS says 65% of the county is in the “extreme drought” phase, the second most significant classification. According to the NIDIS, all of the following can be present during an extreme drought: pasture and water is inadequate for cattle, air quality is poor, dust is a problem, vegetation is stressed and fire danger increases dramatically.

In response, Ogden City has issued a “declaration of moderate water shortage,” which is effective through Oct. 15, or until further notice. Subsequently, provisions of Ogden’s Water Shortage Management Plan are in force, which means all outdoor watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The city says violating that order could result in fines of $50 for the first violation, going up from there after repeated infractions.

Beyond that effort to conserve, Herd says there’s growing concern about the quality of water in the Pineview dam. He said as of June 1, the reservoir was at about 56% of its capacity. He said the low water levels, combined with the extreme heat seen so far in June, are creating ideal conditions for algae blooms. Algae blooms can contain high concentrations of a harmful bacteria, which when exposed to humans can cause skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, headaches and fever. Blooms are dangerous for humans, pets, fish and wildlife.

Herd said that under the right circumstances, the blooms could make the quality of water in the reservoir so toxic that if pushed through the treatment plant, it could damage the facility. Herd said the plant is shut down every year, on a date that fluctuates depending on climate and demand, but the facility typically closes for the season around the start of October. When the plant is shutdown, the city relies on seven wells that pull from underground aquifers to supply the citizens of Ogden with water. The city also gets an allotment of water from Weber Basin Water Conservancy District sources.

Herd said that six of the city’s wells are located near the reservoir, with another located at the eastern end of 27th Street. A project to build another well near the Ogden Airport is under construction, which the city hopes will be functional by end of year. Herd said the reservoir is the main concern at the present time and that wells are still drawing the right amount of water, but the city is closely monitoring the situation.

“We haven’t seen any … water column drops … but underground aquifers, it’s hard to predict how they are going to react as surface water starts diminishing,” Herd said. “So we don’t know what kind of implications that will have.”

Ogden Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson said concern over possible fires this year is also significantly amplified right now because of the limited water currently available.

The city has banned the use of all fireworks, matches or other ignition sources in the following locations: all areas east of Harrison Boulevard; all wooded areas along the Ogden and Weber River parkways, including all associated parks there; all of Fort Buenaventura, the city baseball park and dog park area, located off A Avenue; the old landfill at approximately 2550 A Ave., near the fort; and all open fields, vacant lots, wooded areas and brush-covered hillsides throughout the city.

A violation of the notice could result in a class B misdemeanor. Residents can report fires and fireworks to the Weber Area Consolidated Dispatch Center at 801-629-8221. The ban is in effect now and, unless environmental conditions change significantly, won’t be lifted until Sept. 20.

To illustrate how damaging a large fire could be to the city’s water supply, Herd mentioned an approximately 40-acre fire that broke out in May 2020 near the mouth of Ogden Canyon. He said during that time, the city was producing about 20 million gallons of water every day and it took 4 million to 5 million gallons to put the fire out.

“So that was one-fourth of what the city would have utilized on one given fire,” Herd said. “That’s why it’s so important when it comes to fire restrictions and encouraging them.”

Ogden Fire Chief Mike Mathieu said the combination of the lack of water, the unseasonable heat and the low humidity have essentially created a perfect storm of fire conditions. He said wild land vegetation looks right now as it usually does in late August.

“And it’s June 15,” Mathieu said. “So what’s in store for us, we don’t know, but it doesn’t look good right now for a fire danger, fire risk situation.”

Mathieu said the city’s current fire restrictions are about as tough as the city can be. An outright ban of fireworks would have to come from the upper echelons of the Utah state government. Council member Ben Nadolski talked about the city adopting a formal resolution that urges the Utah State Legislature to implement a total ban on fireworks as long as the current drought conditions remain. Johnson said the city plans to step up enforcement and punitive measures for residents who violate current fireworks restrictions.

“On the Fourth of July weekend and the 24th of July weekend, the fire department goes from fire to fire to fire — most of them have been started by fireworks,” Johnson said. “We will be sending police officers … to drive around the neighborhoods, looking for people who are violating these restricted areas … and we will be fining them. We have to. We gotta send a message out that we have to take this seriously this year. We don’t have the water to put out very many fires. … We’re going to go as far as we can go enforcement wise.”

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