IVINS — The Ivins City Council approved an updated water conservation plan at its meeting Nov. 2 after some refinements and skepticism from council members.

File photo of volunteers installing water-wise plants in a spot previously occupied by non-functional turf at Unity Park as a part of the Flip Blitz campaign, Ivins, Utah, May 19, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The 5-0 vote on two separate measures concerning the plan came after a public hearing and discussion about language and the doubts by one council member on whether limiting watering times saves water. 

Much of Ivins’ conservation plan is modeled after past efforts in the city that recently earned the city the state’s water conservation award as well as plans suggested by both the Washington County Water Conservancy District and the state. 

Among changes in the new plan is the increased use of automated, real-time water meters that has already been budgeted, quickly notify resident if they have plumbing issues and support more water reuse and storage. The stated goals of Ivins’ plan are to reduce both water usage in the city by 10% in the next 10 years and water system losses by 7%.

According to the city’s public works department, Ivins has dropped its water usage by 38% since 2000 even though the population has doubled.

Nevertheless, there was concern about the city locking itself into pledges.

Council members Dennis Mehr and Lance Anderson were concerned about having certain language “baked into” the plan. They wanted to make clear such suggestions such as holding households to water budgets, creating water reuse systems and encouraging artificial turf installations were just suggestions and not requirements for residents or city leaders.

“I always want to have the most control on the local level,” Mehr said. “We bake in language that seems benign today but won’t be later.”

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 8, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The council agreed with Mehr’s suggestion that in the section of the plan “Strategies for the Future” the words “encourage (or require)” should be replaced with “consider.”

Mehr also took issue with the suggestion that mechanisms be put in place to set a water budget for each household based on the number of residents in the household and the size of the landscapes.

“I want to make sure there’s nothing at all about water cops,” Mehr said. “We’re penalizing a household that has more residents. A family with seven children using too much water. I get a little nervous with this kind of language.”

Mayor Chris Hart, who serves on the water conservancy’s board of trustees, said such a household would have more leeway but actions would be taken against residents who are legitimate “water hogs.”

“In the county, there are not just over-users but major abusers,” Hart said. “There are homes where they don’t care about the bill using 10 times the amount. There need to be mechanisms in place to combat extreme abuse. We have at least one of those in Ivins City.”

Hart noted this is “just a plan” and a guide subject to revision, rather than a binding ordinance.

During the resident public comment period, one resident said they were concerned about the plan focusing on residences, rather than commercial properties in Ivins. The city’s public works director Chuck Gillette replied that water budgets are being considered for commercial properties and will likely be more uniform and rigid compared to the leeway made for larger residential households. 

Washington County Water Conservancy District Conservation Manager Doug Bennett speaks before the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 8, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Hart praised Washington County Water Conservancy District Conservation Manager Doug Bennett who attended the meeting. He joined the conservancy in April after working in a similar role for the Southern Nevada Water Authority where he helped create water conservation efforts. 

“He’s the guy who led the efforts in Vegas so we hit the jackpot,” Hart said.

Bennett, meanwhile, returned the compliment.

“You guys are the model for water efficiency in the state,” said Bennett, adding that Ivins now needs to be the model to lead the conservancy’s 20-year plan. 

“It’s essential we get this 20-year plan in all the districts we serve,” he said.”Ivins does not provide all of its own water. We need to be moving to a lower demand per household.”

Getting more focus and concern from council member Anderson was something not listed in the plan but is in the city’s binding water ordinance: Limiting the watering of lawns to between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. He also expressed opposition to a secondary water system that would reuse water from runoff, sinks and other “greywater” as non-drinking/irrigation water.

“I don’t want to give the impression by voting for this that I’m for putting in a secondary water system like we’ve already budgeted it. I’m against that,” Anderson said. 

He added he thinks limiting watering to mostly the early morning hours puts too much pressure on the city’s water system.

“I heard the watering clock doesn’t matter with saving water,” Anderson said. “I’m concerned about that and too much of a burden on the system at one time.”

Council member Lance Anderson speaks during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 8, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Anderson said a “gentleman from Logan University” stated limiting water to the early morning doesn’t save water.

St. George News could not find such a study from Logan University. However, there is a study from Logan, Utah-based Utah State University  that watering before 9 a.m. in the morning “can save up to 30% of the water used for irrigation.” There are also similar studies from Iowa State, UC Davis and the United States Department of Agriculture

Bennett replied to Anderson that while an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. restriction might be “too broad,” he said his long experience as a horticulturist is that the biggest bang for the buck is watering before the sun gets too high on the horizon. He said there is less wind and heat at that time, allowing for less evaporation.

“The best time to water is in the wee morning,” he said.

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