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Cities to slow the flow

In most Wasatch Front cities, the drought-time drill is the same: Residents are asked not to water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But in most cities that's just a suggestion. The worst that usually happens to a violator: being given a water-conservation pamphlet.

While Denver and Aurora, Colo., residents are being told not to water their lawns, plant vegetable gardens or fill swimming pools, it's watering as usual along the Wasatch Front as Utah enters its fifth year of drought.

Salt Lake City officials, who have proposed increasing water rates as an incentive to conserve, say Colorado-esque restrictions could be coming within the next 15 years or so, but most other cities in the metropolitan area aren't even sure what restrictions they'll enact this summer. With a few exceptions, most favor the status quo.

Draper, Sandy and Tooele are considering limiting not just watering times of day but days of week. That's about as bad as it gets.

Last year, for example, users of Tooele water supplies were limited to three days' watering a week, with no watering on Sundays. Residents with odd-numbered addresses were allowed to water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; those with even-numbered addresses on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Repeat offenders were fined. One possible change: Restrictions may start earlier than last year's June mandate.

Draper and Sandy may also institute odd days/even days watering.

Sandy officials are keeping a close watch on how cities in Colorado are dealing with the extended drought since Utah may not be far behind.

If the drought continues, the city could move from voluntary water rationing to mandatory restrictions. But Shane Pace, Sandy's deputy director of public utilities, said that isn't likely to happen this year. If the dry conditions continue into 2004, however, Sandy residents may be forced to cut way back on watering their lawns.

"If the drought continues, I don't know that we've got a choice," he said. "The real issue is the ability to meet peak demand at the worst time of the summer. We can't allow the system to get to the point where we're not able to provide our residents with water during those peak times."

Last year's situation wasn't as bad as it could have been, he said, because Little Cottonwood Creek delivered a steady flow through the spring. The availability of that water meant the city didn't have to use its wells as much.

But the snowpack above Little Cottonwood Creek was 120 percent of normal last year. It's far below that this year, Pace said.

What to expect elsewhere:

Last year, Bluffdale, Herriman, Kearns Improvement District, South Jordan and Taylorsville only recommended no water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Murray is recommending the same but reserves the right to upgrade those restrictions if conditions warrant a change. West Jordan issued the same recommendation but this year is considering implementing billing practices that would encourage conservation and penalize water wasters with higher rates.

In West Valley City, the Granger-Hunter Improvement District serves most of the city, with 34,810 connections. So far it has imposed no water restrictions, but that could change if the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy or West Valley City imposes tougher restrictions. Last year's policy was similar to that in the rest of the valley — a mere recommendation that residents refrain from outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Magna Water Co. and Riverton made the same restrictions mandatory.

Residents of Weber and Davis counties will have the usual restriction of not watering outside between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. plus more vigilant monitoring of landscape watering by cities and water districts. Most cities are taking a wait-and-see approach to making any new laws affecting water use until closer to the watering season.

Tage I. Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said his district will be joining many cities in tougher enforcement of watering restrictions. Those who violate the restrictions face fines; those with secondary irrigation water found in violation face having it turned off.

Regardless of how the water year turns out, Flint said the district will likely shut off its supply of irrigation water two or three weeks early this year to conserve water in its reservoirs. The district's reservoirs are only at 60 percent of full now, and Flint does not expect them to be filled.

Other large cities such as Bountiful and North Salt Lake, with golf courses that take up to 20 million gallons of water per month, are planning to further cut some city watering, which will mean brown grass in some parks and on the periphery of golf courses.

Most water restrictions — even Colorado's — may just be temporary inconveniences. A long-term water shortage could mean something deeper — a change in Utah's way of life.

For Draper, that could mean the unthinkable in the future — limits on new development.

"That's a dirty word, but actually it may be what we need to look at — limiting growth in the near future if we continue to have drought conditions," said Draper City Manager Eric Keck.

"Development is something we have been encouraging to an extent, and development would be pretty upset if we put those restrictions in place, but it may come down to restricting that."

Keck figures it probably would be 10 to 15 years before the situation would become that dire, and only if drought conditions linger. By then, much of Draper could be built out.

But if residents don't comply with the more hard-line approach the city plans to take this year, the worst-case scenario could arrive sooner.

"We need to rely a lot upon conservation measures and we hope our residents grab onto that and do their part," Keck said. "Otherwise, we will have to discuss a growth cap."

Contributing: Brady Snyder, Zack Van Eyck, Stephen Speckman, Larry Weist