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St. George again goes with the flow

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Rene Fleming stands by a waterfall at Old Opera House in St. George.

Rene Fleming stands by a waterfall at Old Opera House in St. George.

Nancy Perkins, Deseret Morning News

ST. GEORGE — Let the watering begin.

St. George Council members happily and unanimously voted to lift water conservation restrictions imposed earlier this year on their fellow citizens.

"The kids gave me a power washer for Father's Day and now I can finally use it," said St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, breaking into a jubilant grin.

For the past several months, water users in this parched desert city have sprinkled lawns at night, shut off water features, stopped washing vehicles except at carwashes, and swept instead of hosed down dirty sidewalks.

Anyone caught violating the water restrictions got a warning — either by phone, in person or in writing — that pointed out the error of their ways.

"It was really effective to have people not water during the day," said Rene Fleming, St. George water conservation coordinator, whose job includes following up on waste complaints. "Even though everybody did pretty good, we don't want people to lose momentum. They still need to be waterwise in their landscaping. It has to become a habit."

The council's decision to remove water restrictions coincides with a change in how the city bills for water usage. A tiered water rate schedule intended to encourage conservation is drying up at the end of the month. During the summer, residents who used more than 35,000 gallons of water a month were charged more for the privilege. Billing returns to pre-conservation levels at the end of September.

"This summer shows what we can do," said St. George manager Gary Esplin, referring to the city's overall 10 percent reduction in water use. "Our people have done an incredible job of maximizing our water."

While St. George is lifting its water conservation restrictions and returning to its regular water rate schedule, nearby Hurricane is not, said city manager Clark Fawcett.

"The council hasn't even talked about it," Fawcett said Friday. "I still worry about whether we'll have enough water in the future since we're in a drought."

Building permits in Hurricane jumped in August, with 25 construction permits issued for the growing town of more than 7,500 people. Finding water to accommodate that growth is a constant challenge, Fawcett said.

St. George Councilman Rod Orton said he's always being asked about water.

"That's the number one question. Will we have enough water?" Orton said at Thursday's council meeting.

The idea of rationing water or requiring residents to water on odd or even days was never seriously considered in St. George, said Councilman Larry Gardner.

"We're in the fifth year of the most severe drought in the state's history. But nobody rationed, we didn't put people on an odd/even schedule. We had sufficient water," Gardner said. "The Navajo Aquifer is deep, and the water table is dependable. It's kind of like a security blanket down there. It's good to have a straw down deep."

The Washington County Water Conservancy District routinely tracks water usage by its member cities, and some fared better than others when it came to slowing the flow, according to figures released by the district.

Santa Clara saved a solid 10.2 percent this year over the amount used during the same period in 2002, while La Verkin banked 7.68 percent of its water.

Ivins managed to save 5.6 percent, while Hurricane stored 3.8 percent and Washington city washed out with a 1 percent reduction in water use.

"Everybody's done better," said Julie Breckenridge, the district's water conservation coordinator. "But we can't overstress the importance of continuing to save water, even though St. George lifted its water restrictions".

E-mail: nperkins@infowest.com