HURRICANE — In this year’s Utah state legislative session, a water conservation rebate program was approved for those willing to rip out their lawns.

A home with water conservation features near the golf course in Hurricane, Utah, Nov. 2, 2023 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

But not all Utah residents will get their rebate for doing so.

Hurricane resident Don Oldt spent nearly $4,000 tearing out more than 1,000 square feet of grass, installing artificial turf and replacing outdated sprinkler systems in the home he bought six months ago.

But when he applied for the rebate program through the Washington County Water Conservancy District, he said he was rejected. Although he lives in Washington County, his home near the Sky Mountain Golf Course is within Hurricane City limits.

“The county informed me they had plenty of money for the rebate program but Hurricane was not in compliance with county standards,” Oldt told St. George News. “Numerous phone calls and emails later the county allowed me to submit my application for eliminating 1,034 square feet of lawn. They approved my application, performed a pre-inspection and a post-inspection. I was approved for a rebate of $2,074.”

Water-wise plants are an important part of water conservation, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George News

Washington County Water Conservancy District Communications Director Karry Rathje told St. George News the rebate program is funded by the state and local water districts. She said an ordinance recently passed by Hurricane civic leaders fell short of the water district and state requirements.

“The (Hurricane) ordinance includes a lot of the required standards, but there are some things that are still missing — grass allowances for multi-family housing, limits on water features, irrigation system requirements including a smart controller, misting system restrictions, etc.,” she said. “But the primary issue is that Hurricane’s standards do not apply to areas served by the Hurricane Canal Company or a secondary irrigation system, which represents a large percentage of the community.”

Rathje said the Washington County Water Conservancy District is currently working with many Southern Utah communities to pass ordinances that restrict water usage.

“State legislation requires the passing of municipal water efficiency ordinances for program funding,” she said. “Ordinances help ensure that all new construction is water efficient throughout the state.”

A view of the Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah, Nov. 2, 2023 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

Applications for the Washington district’s turf replacement program will continue to be conditionally accepted into the rebate program. But those applying from cities without ordinances that comply with Utah codes could see their rebate delayed.

“Under this approach, the district will conduct all required inspections and collect all necessary documentation,” Rathje said. “But final rebate payments will only be made when a qualifying water efficiency ordinance is adopted in the participant’s jurisdiction.”

In an interview with Utah’s KUER public radio, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox noted that rebate program applicants must tear out existing grass and replace it with desert landscaping or artificial turf, not just dirt.

Yet only cities with ordinances that matched the states would be eligible.

“We want to reward those cities that are being proactive and making sure that new development that 10 years from now, we’re not going into a whole bunch of new homes and paying them to take their turf out when they could have done it to begin with,” Cox said.

The demands of watering a considerable amount of acreage at most schools, coupled with low water pressure, means the district often has to water at less than ideal times, St. George, Utah, June 30, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Michael Sanchez, public information officer at Utah Division of Water Resources, told St. George News the main goal behind the rebate program is to discourage grass being installed in new developments.

Established residents, or those purchasing a new home like Oldt, can qualify too. If their city has ordinances that comply with those set by the state.

“It’s essential to ensure water conservation efforts are implemented consistently across the state of Utah,” Sanchez said. “When you look at the amazing variety we have in our great state — from Southern Utah’s red rocks to the Alpine mountains in the north — a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow for climate, elevation, growing season and specific needs.”

Most usable drinkable water used in the state of Utah is distributed on plush, green lawns, Sanchez added.

“Over half of Utah’s municipal and industrial water use is used outdoors on landscapes and it doesn’t make sense to incentivize the replacement of newly planted grass,” he said. “We want to avoid removing grass while the new home across the street is installing more grass.”

A blue sky overhangs the Hurricane City Offices building, Hurricane, Utah, Nov. 2, 2023 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

Hurricane City officials have been revising the current water conservation ordinance and will be meeting with Washington County Water Conservancy District managers next week, Hurricane City Attorney Dayton Hall said.

In its most recent meeting, the Washington City Council and conservancy district managers worked together to pass a city ordinance that gives residents the ability to qualify for the rebate.

In May, Cox issued an executive order for all state facilities to coordinate with the Division of Water Resources and implement the new water conservation requirements.

In Hurricane Valley, Oldt complied with all state and county regulations. Driving down the streets by the golf course one can see that many of his neighbors have done the same.

“Water is the most important resource we have and we abuse it,” Oldt said. “I believe strongly in water conservation. It is a natural resource many in our country take for granted. I have complied with all County requirements, but my rebate sits on somebody’s desk waiting for Hurricane to comply.”

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