Saying that it would put a serious crimp in the city's ability to expand residentially, as well as leave them open to lawsuits from angry prospective homeowners, Woodland Hills leaders are now planning to appeal a state-mandated residential construction moratorium.
This month, the State Division of Drinking Water issued an executive order that bans the town from approving new construction, as well as any new water connections. That order would bar construction in Woodland Hills until state officials are satisfied with the town's water situation.A state engineer inspected the town's culinary and irrigation water systems earlier this month. Based on his report, state officials issued the executive order, saying that Woodland Hills didn't have enough water to supply its existing homes, much less any new developments.
But Mayor Reed Larsen begs to differ. He said standards the engineer used to make his findings are faulty.
"Those standards are for a lot bigger cities than ours. They determined our homes need a lot more water than we would normally use," Larsen said. "We're normally on the borderline with our water. With the water we use on average, we should be OK this summer as long as our pumps hold up."
Ken Bousfield, compliance program manager for the State Division of Drinking Water, said the town has 30 days from the day the order was issued to appeal. A 12-member appeals board would then have the final decision whether the order will stand.
Larsen said he and other leaders have begun negotiations to acquire water rights from a new well located within the town's boundary in Maple Canyon. That well is owned by local landowners who are hoping to develop the property nearby, which means a building moratorium could hurt those ne-go-tiations.
"We don't have the right to tell people they can't develop their property," he said.
At the same time, some residents say town leaders don't have the right to endanger them and their families. Todd Rupper, who chairs a committee that is charged with investigating Woodland Hills' water situation, said the town's current lack of water could create a severe fire hazard.
"This is a gorgeous, gorgeous area, so it's no surprise that people want to build here," said Rupper, who actually contacted state officials after the Town Council failed to follow his committee's recommendations regarding a building moratorium. "But we're very concerned about fire safety. It would be bad enough to lose one home to a fire, but the way things are, we could lose the whole town and community if we have a fire."
Woodland Hills, which is located between Salem and Spanish Fork, currently contains approximately 170 homes. The town is no stranger to water-related crises, including an incident last fall in which residents in the town's northern end were without water for three days.
Council members are expected to discuss the moratorium and the consequent appeal in their Wednesday, April 12, meeting. That meeting will start at 7 p.m. at Salem Elementary School, 140 W. 100 South, Salem, and is open to the public.