Southern Utah water experts consider ‘mistakes of the past’ to plan for future generations

ST. GEORGE — For many Southern Utah residents, water is the least of their worries. Those who rent never see water bill increases caused by shortages. Those who don’t venture outside of the city too often never see the local reservoirs’ water decline.

Utah state legislators, water district managers and representatives from several communities met in Southern Utah for a Prepare60 brainstorming session in Brian Head, Utah, Sept. 14, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Jordan Hess, St. George News

According to Utah’s Regional Economic Analysis Project, the St. George metropolitan area’s overall population grew by 1,370% between 1969 and 2021.

So who is making sure all those new residents can brush their teeth in the morning with water from the tap?

St. George News recently spoke with Washington County Water Conservancy District General Manager Zach Renstrom after a meeting in Brian Head with several state legislators, representatives from the Utah Governor’s office and those representing neighboring states.

Organized by the nonprofit organization Prepare60, a group led by water conservation managers throughout the state, the informal meeting brought civic leaders from many communities who are struggling with the same problems: growth and water resources.

“We had an individual from the Southern Nevada Water Authority come up and speak,” Renstrom said. “A lot of the discussions we’re having in Utah, they’re having in Nevada.”

L-R: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox shakes the hand of Washington County Water Conversancy District general manager Zach Renstrom, West Jordan, Utah, May 2, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George News

Renstrom said meetings like these are beneficial in all stages of water delivery for his staff members. From purifying water treatments to new construction planning, and of course, the hot topic — conservation.

“We want to learn from other people’s mistakes,” he said. “And the only way to learn from people’s mistakes is to learn what mistakes they have made.”

Since many of the water managers present were from northern Utah, there was much discussion about the Great Salt Lake, and the issues currently facing conservation staff there.

While serving as a panelist for the conservancy district, Washington City Councilman Kurt Ivie also gave a presentation to those in attendance about the city’s new water meters.

“The homeowner can download an app that will tell them if they have a water leak,” Ivie said. “The city shuts it down and then they work to fix it so that it doesn’t waste tens of thousands’ gallons of water, which is a problem with snowbirds and people with second homes down here.”

Washington City Councilman Kurt Ivie shares ideas with other communities at a Prepare60 brainstorming session in Brian Head, Utah, Sept. 14, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Jordan Hess, St. George News

Other than learning from other communities, Ivie said the most inspiring part of the meeting was that many other meetings and symposiums are held every year with many residents never knowing.

And while some solutions to the water problem can be controversial, the main goals have always been to ensure reliable sources of water for Southern Utah residents at a reasonable cost.

“Keeping the prices low,” Ivie said. “Because honestly, that’s the biggest issue we have here in Southern Utah, is the rising costs of everything for people. Everything is expensive.”

Ivie also said that with notable gains in local reservoirs due to good snowfall, “we must learn from our mistakes of the past.”

Washington City Director of Public Affairs Jordan Hess, who was recently named on St. George Chamber of Commerce’s upcoming influencer list, said there was a lot to learn from other communities.

A buoy sits high and dry on cracked earth previously under the waters of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on June 28, 2022 | Photo by John Locher/AP, St. George News

“When you look at water use, current businesses versus future business growth, expected residential growth, agriculture uses, who gets what and how much? It was very eye-opening for me to see how others are balancing their demands for water,” Hess said. “It is up to our elected officials to decide how to plan for and allocate that water. It was very informative for the younger generation in order to sustain the needs for the future.”

According to the conservation group’s website, Prepare60 was organized by Utah’s four largest water districts in an effort to conserve existing water.

“Providing for the future means meeting the needs of our own children and grandchildren,” the website states. “New local and regional water supplies will have to be developed even if conservation goals are met.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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