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Pulpit warning called a nonissue

ACLU to ignore Mapleton’s use of churches

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MAPLETON — The American Civil Liberties Union says it will not take issue with Mapleton's recent use of LDS pulpits to issue an emergency call for reduced water usage in the city.

"We're just going to issue a 'no comment' on this one," said Cori Sutherland, deputy director of Utah's ACLU chapter.

When city officials learned that the city's 2 million-gallon water tank was going dry the weekend of July 7, they knew the fastest way to tell residents to cut back on water use was through LDS churches.

"It's one of the quickest ways in an emergency situation like that," said City Administrator Stan Kantor.

City Councilman David Jensen deemed use of the LDS pulpit to advise residents of the emergency appropriate but said the administration should have talked first with the City Council.

Jensen said he was concerned about the accompanying administrative threats of penalties for residents who failed to cut back on watering. He said such threats were "overreaching" because they didn't come from the council.

"The protocol of using the church organization (to convey emergency messages) was appropriate because they are so well-organized," he said. Jensen handles water matters for the city.

The city used two methods to inform the citizenry — media advisories and the 15 LDS churches that serve Mapleton, Kantor said. No other church has a building in the city.

A news release to the media failed to get quick notice, he said. The media are the only way the city had to contact residents that do not belong to the LDS faith, he said.

Mapleton has a Web site, but officials did not post the emergency message.

"I have no way of knowing if (residents) would even see it," Kantor said.

A message from the pulpit worked well in the community of about 5,800 people, officials said.

"As near as we can tell only about 100 people, plus or minus, are not members of the (LDS) church," Kantor said.

Residents drew down the tank rapidly after an electrical problem shut off the water pumps in Maple Canyon. Meanwhile, a gas-fired well south of town had mechanical problems, he said.

Water pressure dropped for some residents and air got in the water lines, Jensen said.

"We don't have enough storage," he said, although the city has plenty of water. In addition to the 2-million gallon tank in Maple Canyon, the city also has a 1-million gallon tank at the city's south end.

Once the pumps were operating again and the word spread through the churches, residents cut back, and the tanks started refilling.

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com