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Weber County, Ogden water officials avoid punitive approach in dealing with drought

By Tim Vandenack Standard-Examiner - | Jun 19, 2021
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Richard Robinson is pictured on the rear deck outside his Farr West home on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. He's complained about what he says is excessive irrigation by the neighbor who lives behind him for years, with limited success.

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Richard Robinson is pictured in the back yard of his Farr West home on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. He's complained about what he says is excessive irrigation by the neighbor who lives behind him for years, with limited success.

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Sprinklers run in a field along Pleasant View Drive in Pleasant View on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
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A sprinkler waters the grass outside KFC on 12th Street in Ogden on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

FARR WEST — Richard Robinson could only take so much, watching the sprinkler run and run and run in his neighbor’s expansive yard.

“His water should be going to other uses,” said Robinson, who lives in Farr West. “Water’s a treasured commodity that shouldn’t be wasted and it is being wasted.”

So he started messaging and complaining to authorities at Pineview Water Systems, the provider of secondary water for irrigation and lawn watering that serves the zone where he lives. He had actually messaged Pineview as far back as 2018 over the situation, seeking intervention, but his complaints have intensified this year as the drought has gotten even more dire. “I’m at a stump at what else I can do at this point,” he said.

He’s not alone in calling for conservation. As Weber County withers under extreme drought conditions as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal monitoring system, local officials are pushing the public to increasingly watch their water use. So are others. One Ogden man has started a Twitter account, @InconsiderateOg, posting pictures of what he deems to be errant, wasteful and excessive lawn watering in the East Bench area, aiming to draw attention to the issue.

“They’re either inconsiderate or oblivious to what they’re doing,” said the man, who asked for anonymity, worried about backlash for putting the spotlight on the issue. The pictures show excess irrigation water running in curbs, errantly positioned sprinkler heads spraying water into driveways and more.

Still, don’t necessarily expect authorities to step in and force the public to close their water spigots. The creator of @InconsiderateOg said he started his Twitter account owing to what he said was inaction from Ogden leaders when he reported errant or excessive watering. “Will @OgdenCityUtah @ogdencouncil @ogdencitymayor do anything before it’s too late? #badmayor #badgovernment #waterwaster,” reads one tweet.

Likewise, Robinson’s efforts with Pineview have yielded limited results, though he thinks his clamoring has spurred his neighbor to voluntarily scale back his lawn-watering regimen.

Officials, for their part, say variously that they’re trying to gently prod the public to act without unduly intervening and that there are limits to what they actually may do.

The City of Ogden declared a ”moderate water shortage” on June 4, prohibiting lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., same as Pineview Water Systems and the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which also supplies secondary water in Weber County. The Ogden prohibition is enforceable by fines of $50 for first offenses, but Mark Johnson, Ogden’s chief administrative officer, said passing out tickets isn’t the aim.

“Our goal is not to fine people. Our goal is to get them to do the right thing,” Johnson said.

Indeed, he thinks most people are cognizant of the drought, an issue of concern all across the state, and taking steps to temper water use. “I haven’t heard any pushback, and I think it’s hard to with as much attention as it’s getting statewide,” he said.

If the city’s code enforcement officers do come across errant water sprinkling, they’ll talk with the resident, put the focus on education. Fines, meant as “a last resort,” Johnson said, would only potentially come later after repeat offenses.

Notably, though Ogden’s ordinances allow for fines if users water their lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., typically the hottest part of the day, there are no provisions allowing for fines for errant irrigating that sends excess water to streets, sidewalks or driveways. Water officials, though, may offer advice to homeowners on how to remedy such situations if they encounter them.

Ben Quick, the Pineview general manager, said enforcement is tricky. Besides the restriction on watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., Pineview’s guidelines call on its customers to water no more than two times per week and not on consecutive days, among other things. Officials from the utility could step in only if a customer used more than the amount of water allotted to them, and with only limited metering of secondary water, precise usage can be hard to gauge.

“Therein lies one of the biggest issues,” Quick said. Beyond that, even if a customer were deemed to be using excessive amounts of water, the recourse would be to cut their water supply, requiring a major effort to dig down to their water line, cut it and cap it.

Instead, Pineview and Weber Basin Water Conservancy officials are putting a focus on education, like Ogden officials. Pineview reps have put door hangers at homes improperly using water with messages about usage rules and Weber Basin reps will start similar action this coming week.

“We think that most people will comply. I think most people will understand and do their utmost to comply,” said Darren Hess, the assistant general manager at the Weber Basin Conservancy District. A lawn won’t be as vibrant and green with reduced watering, he said, “but we think it will survive just fine.”

On the bright side, Quick said secondary water use in April and May this year was down 28% compared to the same period last year. For the first half of June, it was up slightly compared to last year owing to the prevailing conditions, drier and hotter now than this time last year, he thinks.

Whatever the case, Quick still can’t say for sure how long secondary supplies will last given depleted water conditions in Pineview Reservoir, source of the Pineview Water Systems water. Typically, secondary water is kept on until October, but he says officials may have to shut it off as early as July as a precaution against the possibility of continuing drought conditions next year. “It’s a dire situation,” Quick said.

Back in Farr West, Robinson thinks his complaints have reverberated with his neighbor. The neighbor had typically run his sprinklers daily to keep his massive lawn green, but has scaled back of late. “That’s a good thing,” Robinson said.

Still, he’ll be watching.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water Resources allows the public to report watering concerns. The website is surveymonkey.com/r/fameorshame. The City of Ogden also has a website the public can use to report wasteful water usage. It’s at ogdencity.com/522/Report-a-Water-Waster.


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