ENOCH CITY – Concerned that water resources are depleting faster than they’re refilling, the Enoch City Council voted Friday to pass an ordinance limiting water usage.
The City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting residents from outdoor watering starting Sunday from 8 a.m. through Monday at 11:59 p.m. That schedule repeats the following week from July 16 through July 17.
Noncompliance with the ordinance can result in a citation for an infraction with a fine of $50 per incident. Police have the discretion to choose when to issue a citation versus a warning.
The ordinance makes exceptions for lawns newly planted within the last 14 days and for spot hand watering in water-stressed gardens.
The ordinance is the second of its kind. The council restricted water usage last month to the hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. in an effort to try and increase water levels in the city wells.
This time, the council initially proposed alternating water usage on an even and odd schedule depending on addresses. However, Mayor Geoffrey Chestnut said he felt the weekend restrictions would allow the city to refill the wells without having to take the more drastic measures.
The city wells hold about 4.25 million gallons of water. The data shows water levels in the wells significantly dropped in the first 72 hours after the Brian Head fire started on June 17 due to an overwhelming draw on the water by residents. The decrease was large enough, officials said, that with 3 million gallons of water going out every day, the wells have not been able to refill to their maximum capacity.
After the meeting City Manager Rob Dotson pulled water usage numbers that show many residents using more than double the amount of water during those days than they used at the same time the previous year. In some cases, it was more than three or four times higher than the year before.
City officials cannot explain the increases but Chestnut said he believes residents panicked after they saw the fire burning just miles away from their homes.
“We’re making an assumption but it’s the only thing that’s different than the year before,” the mayor said. “We checked temperatures, we checked temperatures from last year, we looked at different things that could have been different that would have caused the uptick but nothing is different from the year before except the Brian Head fire. The data there is showing the water usage increased, what we don’t know is the why.”
Dotson agreed with Chestnut.
“I think it’s what the mayor said. I think people felt hot. I think it was about the fire and it being connected to their property,” Dotson said. “I think it’s deeply psychological.”
Residents raised concerns that the proposed ordinance would spark similar panic in the city triggering residents to all turn their water on Tuesday morning to saturate their lawns that, by then, will have gone without water for 40 hours.
Chestnut agreed the concerns were valid but said officials are hopeful that by restricting the water usage for two weekends in a row the wells will still be able to refill to safe levels even with a large draw down on the water.
“We’re hoping two weekends will give us a correction and that we’ll have a big compliance among residents. We might be staring down a big drop again Tuesday afternoon,”Chestnut said. “But our hope is that easing this in over 10 days, almost 14 days between the two weekends, that by the second weekend our levels will be up again.”
Several residents asked if the school, churches and the city that often water during peak hours of the day would also be under the same restrictions as homeowners.
Dotson and Chestnut later said, other than the city – which they maintain has recently decreased its water use – the largest culinary water users in Enoch are the churches and the schools – an issue they both agree needs to be addressed.
“The churches and the schools, just like everyone else in our community, they are using more than they have historically,” Chestnut said. “But their impact is substantially greater because they are such big users.”
At the same time, these two water users are more than accommodating and willing to cooperate with requests to decrease water usage, the mayor added.
Agricultural water users will not be under the same restrictions as they own their own water rights, Dotson said. In addition, farmers use irrigation water, which is different than the culinary water used by residents hooked up to the city wells.
Officials plan on reviewing the water levels after the first round of restrictions and again, following the second weekend. If by that time, the water has not returned to safe levels Chestnut said the council will have to consider other options. He did not elaborate on what those might be.
The mayor said during the meeting the city will have another well ready to go within a short time that will help with some of these issues.
“The new well will do two things: one, we will have the option to use additional water if we need to; and two, by having an additional well we’re able to cycle through for maintenance, being able to maintain our current need without a drop off in service because the current service is just enough to cover the need,” Chestnut said. “This well will be more efficient than the ones we have now that are a lot older. Our goal isn’t to increase the amount we are pumping but to better serve our infrastructure and be able to make repairs when necessary and take care of our water users.”
But with Enoch now under a state-imposed groundwater management plan that takes in nearly all of Iron County, the city’s water issues may only have just begun as it faces threats of potentially losing water rights.
In January 2016, representatives from the Utah Division of Water Rights warned residents and officials during a public meeting that the Cedar Valley aquifer was supplying more water into the communities than is available, resulting in overmining. The aquifer provides most of the water to Cedar City, Enoch, Kanarraville and the unincorporated areas in Iron County.
Assistant State Engineer James Greer presented figures then showing the aquifer can safely yield 21,000 acre-feet of water on an annual basis but instead was generating an estimated 28,000 acre-feet, or 7,000 more acre-feet than it can handle.
State Water Engineer Kent Jones ordered the county to create a groundwater management plan to restore the rapidly depleting aquifer that, at then-current yields, could not continue to meet Iron County’s water demands.
Following the meeting, Chestnut said he understands the issues facing Enoch and recognizes the city must find ways to conserve water so that, even with a new well, they are not using the city’s well water to its capacity.
Officials plan to work on educating the public about water conservation such as how to water their grass less while still keeping it alive.
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