New Conservation Ordinances Too Little Too Late

New conservation ordinances adopted for new development in Washington County considered strictest in Utah

Written by Mori Kessler

August 7, 2022


ST. GEORGE — Last November elected officials from across the county met at a water summit to discuss water conservation and landscaping ordinances proposed by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. Now, 10 months later the county’s largest cities have passed what are considered to be the most restrictive water-saving ordinances for new development in the state.



In this file photo, Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George News

“They are some of the strongest (ordinances) in Utah,” Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Friday. “These are some of the most restrictive ordinances within the western United States that have taken some communities years to pass. We’ve taken a big leap fairly quickly.”

While the conservation and landscaping ordinances vary slightly from city to city, collectively they ban non-functional (ornamental) grass for new commercial, institutional and industrial developments and are limiting the amount of grass at new homes.

The ordinances also require the use of secondary water and reuse for outdoor irrigation where available. The county currently uses secondary and reuse water to irrigate parks, schools, golf courses, city-owned facilities and some residential neighborhoods. The water district is developing a regional reuse system in partnership with its municipal customers that will significantly enhance the availability of reuse water for future development.

Other ordinance requirements include:

· Hot water recirculation systems.

· Water-sense labeled fixtures.

· EnergyStar appliances.

· Submetering of multi-unit facilities.

· Restrictions on water features including misting systems.

· Water budgets for golf courses.

· Limits on water used by car wash facilities.

Most municipalities also require a minimum landscape vegetative cover using drought-tolerant plants and trees irrigated with a drip system to maintain community aesthetics and reduce impacts from urban heat island effects.

New water conservation and landscaping ordinances adopted by Washington County’s largest cities and the county itself impact new construction | Stock Image by Photov / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The new ordinances are projected to save nearly 11 billion gallons of water in the next 10 years, according to the water district.

The stricter water ordinances are considered a necessity in the wake of the continuing drought that has stricken the region for the last 20 years and become increasing severe.

“We applaud Washington County’s water conservation accomplishments and current efforts, including setting a higher development standard in the state with these new municipal ordinances,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a press release. “Our future depends on every community in Utah making water conservation a top priority.”

Following the November 2021 water summit, both county and municipal officials have met with the water district, home builders, residents and other stakeholders about the best way forward. This included talk over which aspects of the ordinance may go too far, or not far enough and ultimately codifying what the best practices were for new construction.

Much of what is now required of new construction was already being practice by developers, Renstrom said. The new ordinances have now made those practices a baseline standard.

While some cities adopted the new ordinances within a few months after the summit, others took several months to evaluate and craft exactly what they wanted and felt was necessary to include or discard. Cities like St. George took extra time to make sure elements of the proposed ordinance didn’t conflict with existing code while also smoothing out some lingering concerns shared by builders and elected officials.

Irrigation water being used in Washington City, Utah, July 2, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Along with the cities, the Washington County Commission also adopted its own version the proposed water ordinance for the unincorporated parts of the county.

“This didn’t just happen haphazardly,” Renstrom said. “This was the done deliberately and with a lot of debate and a lot of discussion.”

Washington County is Utah’s hottest, driest and fastest-growing region. The county’s population is projected to more than double by 2050. All major population centers are currently dependent on a single water source, the Virgin River Basin, which is reaching its full development capacity. The basin has been in drought conditions 16 of the last 20 years and water supply levels at local reservoirs are decreasing.

The county’s long-term water supply plan includes additional water conservation and reuse, local source optimization and new resource development. Washington County has already reduced its per capita water use more than 30% since 2000 – the greatest reduction in water use in Utah – and is planning for an additional 14% reduction by 2030, using 2015 as the baseline year.

“There’s no question these ordinances will allow us to continue to grow as an economy in Southern Utah by using the limited resource of water – we can now stretch that out farther,” Renstrom said.

As for those who may say the new measures are “too little too late,” or don’t go far enough, Renstrom said, “There are always going to be those people who go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and complain there isn’t enough chocolate. There will always be naysayers.


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