OGDEN — Members of the Ogden City Council say it’s time to get serious about the ongoing drought — and the body wants to contribute some significant funding to help deal with it.
During a Tuesday work session, the council discussed allocating money to some type of beefed up water conservation program, the details of which would be hashed out later. The discussion was sparked by an ongoing and worsening drought impacting the entire state of Utah.
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, natural vegetation is stressed and fire danger increases.
Pineview Water Systems General Manager Ben Quick recently told the Standard-Examiner that due to an exceptionally dry 2020 summer and with 2021 spring runoff currently at 17% of average, PWS’s portion of the Pineview Reservoir does not have enough water to meet normal irrigation needs for the remainder of the season. PWS shares water in the reservoir with the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. Quick has urged PWS customers to limit irrigation, warning that the secondary water could be cut off this year weeks earlier than it has been before.
Ogden City has issued a “declaration of moderate water shortage,” which is effective through Oct. 15, or until further notice. The city says Ogden’s primary water source, Pineview Reservoir, has only filled to 56% of capacity. 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.
The declaration says that all residential water customers of the city are encouraged to reduce their water use by at least 5%, and commercial water customers are encouraged to reduce their water use by at least 15%. The city encourages residents to maintain and properly adjust their irrigation systems to avoid wasting water and to adjust watering times based on weather.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has issued several emergency drought declarations and instituted a host of water restrictions since March.
“I think that with the news we’ve heard, about the levels of the reservoirs, the amount of runoff we didn’t get, the heat, all the things that are lining up to be maybe the perfect storm,” said Ogden Council member Rich Hyer. “I think people’s attention to this is raised and I think we all know that we can’t continue to live like we live in a wet climate with all the grass we have and all the things that are not compatible with doubling our population in a couple decades.”
So Council member Luis Lopez, who largely spearheaded the water conversation Tuesday night, wants the city to designate $1 million for a water conservation program. Lopez suggested the money could be pulled from a surplus of more than $4 million that the city has been working to spend for the past several weeks.
During last year’s budgeting process, the city programmed a 17% reduction in sales tax revenue from the prior year — a figure that was recommended by the Utah League of Cities and Towns and some other third-party financial experts amid the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city was also expecting a decrease in licensing and permit revenue, but the losses never happened, so in short, the city took in more money than anticipated and state law requires at least some of it be spent.
The council kicked around several ideas for the water conservation program, including bringing in local experts to help them shape it. Lopez suggested a “50/50” program through which the city contributes 50% of the cost for residents to xeriscape their yards. Xeriscaping involves landscaping a particular area so that little or no irrigation water is needed for vegetation to thrive.
“How does that happen? We don’t know, but we need to talk about it,” Lopez said. “But the allocation of that funding, to us that’s what’s kind of at stake right now and what’s important.”
Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said it could be difficult to spend $1 million on a water conservation program in one year, adding “maybe it’s a million over two or three years.”
“The amount in my mind is somewhat nebulous,” Hyer said. “I don’t know what the right amount is either, but you have to start some place.”