ST. GEORGE — While other municipalities have passed water conservation ordinances related to new construction, St. George officials continue to fine-tune the city’s own water saving proposals before they are adopted and codified. Though still a month away, the deadline for passing the new code is approaching.
“We’re the last holdouts,” St. George Michele Randall said during a City Council work meeting held Thursday.
The St. George City Council passed a temporary six-month ban on new car washes and recreation facilities that used large amounts of water in their daily operations earlier this year. This was done to allow the City Council and staff to retool the city’s water conservation and landscaping ordinances to match water-saving recommendations from the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
The ban is permitted under state law and provides a time six-month period for a county or municipal government to address the issue that made the original ban necessary.
The water district’s recommendations came out of a water summit held between the district and the county’s municipalities last November concerning the need to save water during the ongoing and increasing severe drought.
Thus far the Santa Clara, Ivins, Washington City and Washington County (for unincorporated areas) have passed water conservation ordinances that largely mirror each other with a handful of exceptions between them. An overall consensus on water conservation measures applied to new construction is a goal of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
“The water district said that if we change and conserve, then we have water,” the mayor said. “If we don’t, then there’s no water.”
Why so long?
Prior to Thursday’s council meeting, Scott Taylor, the city’s water service director, spoke with St. George News about why the city was taking longer to get a water conservation ordinance passed and what changes are in store once it is.
A draft ordinance given to the cities by the water district was around eight or so pages long, Taylor said. Other cities adopted it after multiple discussions and revisions here and there. When it came to St. George, Taylor said they noticed the draft have many areas that impacted existing code and could be contradictory.
“We looked at it and realized that everything, or most things, in that standalone ordinance effected our existing zoning ordinances,” said Taylor, adding that this prompted city officials to break up elements of the original draft and apply it where appropriate throughout the existing code.
“We amended our existing ordinances to include these conservation measures,” he said.
The process of fine-tuning city code also involved four meetings with various stakeholders that included car wash owners, developers, homeowner associations and other groups.
What to expect
Taylor emphasized that the new code impacts new construction only, and not existing homes or businesses. While new development will see some big changes, it is change that many developers have already embraced, Taylor said. The implementation of the new water-saving measures will help make these practices uniform for builders across the city, he said.
“The biggest change will be the amount of lawn that allowed,” Taylor said. “Up until now, you had no limit on how much lawn you could plant.”
Residential lots will be allowed 8% for landscaping, or up to 1,500 square-feet for large lots. Smaller lots will have the option of 8% or 600 square feet. A minimum of two shade trees is also required for a residential lot.
New commercial development will not be allowed any turf-covered areas unless it serves a function of some sort, such as a play ground or picnic area for example, Taylor said.
At some point in the development process, developers will need to secure water for their projects from the water district and show the city documentation – a “will serve” letter – to this effect. Failure to do so will stall the project.
Car washes will have their water use capped at 35 gallons per vehicle with a goal of dropping that to 25 gallons within five years. Taylor said the city believes this will be achievable through advances in technology.
New car washes will also be required to be built with room for water recycle systems.
Other areas in the city where large amounts of grass and water are used – such as golf courses and water-based recreation facilities – were among the topics of conservation during Thursday’s meeting.
A consensus was had that the city wouldn’t ban new golf courses or water-heavy recreation businesses. However, these ventures would be required to “supply their own water,” meaning they would have to have preexisting rights and access to a water supply dedicated to the proposed project.
“The city doesn’t feel like it would entertain providing water to a new golf course,” Taylor said.
Additional elements of the proposed ordinance revision included the individual metering of multifamily housing units and that water-wise and efficient fixtures and appliances and recirculating systems also be required for new homes.
The City Council has until Aug. 6 to vote on the amended water conservation ordinances. With over a month to go and the recent recommendation from the St. George Planning Commission to adopt the measures, the City Council’s adoption of the revised code may not be far off.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Taylor said. “We absolutely recognize the importance of water conservation. It has to happen.”
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