New water ordinances ignore what’s really needed
The southwest water situation has been serious for a while, but the Colorado River system that provides water to over forty million people is now experiencing energy problems, too, due to Lake Powell’s water level at Glen Canyon Dam. The level in Lake Powell has reached a point where the Bureau of Reclamation that manages Glen Canyon Dam’s power is jumping through hoops to ensure there is enough power for the millions of people in five states, including Utah, who rely on it.
The lake’s level is at 3,522 feet, the lowest since it was filled in the 1960s. The lowest point at which the dam can produce power is 3,490 feet. And, the challenge is even greater because the less power they produce, the less revenue they get from the power sales. The less water pressure created by the lake’s level, the less efficiently the power turbines run. Reclamation is holding back water in Lake Powell to keep the level up and releasing water from upper reservoirs in the Colorado River Storage System to help. Specifically, Flaming Gorge Reservoir (currently 78% full itself) is being used to prop up Lake Powell, but at a Utah Colorado River Authority meeting it was made clear that even draining all the upper reservoirs would not maintain an adequate level in Lake Powell indefinitely .
So, the bureau seems to be in a world of hurt if this drought continues as predicted, and don’t count on the expensive and unreliable Lake Powell Pipeline to provide extra water to Washington County. We are 59% through the Colorado River Water Year 2022. The rivers feeding Lake Powell are at 44% of average flow. Moving to Utah? Bring your water with you!
Anyone who doesn’t see this as a wake-up call for conservation just isn’t paying attention. That brings me to the current efforts to update water ordinances throughout Washington County and how much water-guzzling grass would still be allowed. The county’s revised water ordinance reveals that unincorporated areas can have as much as 2,000 square feet of grass based on lot size. Ivins, where I live, hath a draft water ordinance at the time of this writing that would allow more grass than I had on my half-acre lot before removing and replacing with desert landscaping. New development should not be allowed to have any front lawn and no more than a very small area in the back no matter what the lot size. Why should those with larger lots be allowed greater allowance? Makes no sense to me.
Water should be precious to all of us no matter what our economic status. Black Desert Resort under construction in Ivins is allowed to have their golf course which is not charged against the amount of grass allowed on the remaining seventy-eight acres of the property which can be 8% grass, as I read the ordinance.
Misting systems and water features with some limitations are allowed. Some argue these don’t use much water but it’s still water. As we grow, those little amounts will add up to big amounts. Some also argue that people need these features so they can feel comfortable and enjoy the desert community. I have no pool, no misting system, and no water features and yet am still comfortable and enjoying this area. If it’s too hot outside to enjoy, I suggest people go inside.
There are some positives in the new ordinances but not enough to make up for this glaring mistake about grass and other water-consuming elements. Many probably feel that technology will save us. I think relying on technology to do what we should be doing for ourselves at this time is foolish.
We are animals with brains and should be using them. While the Washington County Water Conservancy District seeks other sources of water from deep wells along the Hurricane Fault—probably at great expense and possibly impacting others’ water rights in the New Harmony and Kanarraville areas—we should be doing whatever we can to save water.
For our officials to promote new water ordinances that allow more grass than is reasonable in the desert does new residents no favor. It will only get more expensive to rip out that lawn and transition to desert landscaping as the situation worsens. Let’s ditch the grass now and move on.
Lisa Rutherford is a resident of Ivins.