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Utah County approves measures to cut back park, facility watering

Utah County Commissioners meet at the  Utah County Administration Building on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

Utah County Commissioners meet at the Utah County Administration Building on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Utah County)

PROVO — The Utah County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve new water conservation measures as drought conditions continue to plague the state and county.

Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee explained during a commission meeting that it was a follow-up order to the emergency declaration the commission voted to pass last week. The point of the new order is to show residents that the county government is taking the drought seriously and hopes to inspire them to do the same.

"We're not just stating it, we're actually going to do things that we have control over," he said, prior to the vote. "We don't have control over the clouds or else we'd make it rain, but we do have control over sprinklers that artificially make it rain, and also other measures."

The resolution passed by the commission calls for the Utah County Parks Division to cut water usage at parks by 40%, with reductions varying from park to park depending on the irrigation system at every park, the park's use and other needs specific to the location. It also calls on the parks division to prioritize watering trees and perennial vegetation over turf grass and annual vegetation.

Richard Nielson, director of Utah County's Public Works, pointed out during the meeting that the measures will only be implemented at county-managed parks and not all parks managed by municipalities in the county.

The order passed Wednesday also states Spanish Fork River Park irrigation watering will be reduced to only trees and no meadow grass areas will be watered "with the expectation that the meadow grass will recover in the spring, even with dry conditions."

Watering of the arena at Utah County Equestrian Park will also be cut by one-third. In some places of the arena, humate soil conditioners will be applied in turf grass areas to improve the grass's water retention rate.

The order also states that the Utah County Building & Grounds Division will cut irrigation water use by 35%. Much like parks, that will vary from county facility to county facility, depending on irrigation system used and other specific needs. All of those changes went into place after the measure passed.

Nielsen said residents may see "some fairly heavy watering" at county facilities shortly before and after holiday festivities in July but that, he said, is because foot traffic mixed with dryness could destroy the grass.

"It'll be a little bit of a give-and-take throughout the summer but we are trying to do that, a 35-40% reduction in our water usage where we can on our landscapes," he said, adding that he doesn't know the exact number of gallons it will save other than it is a "substantial amount of water."

The county's measures add that it will review possible longer-term changes to water usage practices, including xeriscape and low water-use landscaping.

"I believe it is important for government to lead by example, which is why I directed our Utah County Public Works department to look into reducing water usage in parks and on the grounds of our county buildings," Lee said in a statement after the measure passed.

"During this drought, we all must do what we can to protect our most precious natural resource. I strongly encourage all Utah County residents and organizations to do their part in helping us to conserve water," his statement continued. "Cutting back on lawn watering schedules, limiting showers to just a few minutes, avoiding actions that could lead to fires, and washing full loads of laundry are some of the ways we can all help mitigate the threat to our water supply."

The vote Wednesday also came a day after Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order that cut the number of times a state facility can water a lawn this year to twice a week, down from the three that were previously allowed. Like Lee, Cox hopes the government's cutback will lead to more people cutting back on water, just because it's not known how long the conditions will last.

"We want to let people know it's going to be OK to have a yellow lawn this year," Cox said on Tuesday. "We want all of our friends, HOAs, cities and towns to know that this is one of those years that it's going to be OK. Your lawn will be OK if it's yellower this year."

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