The Utah County Commission voted on Wednesday to approve a resolution implementing irrigation water conservation measures that will reduce the county’s water consumption by tens of thousands of gallons every week.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, comes as the entire state faces a drought that officials anticipate to be Utah’s worst on record.

Last week, the Utah County Commission declared a state of emergency in Utah County — the east half of which is experiencing “extreme” drought conditions while the west half is experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions — in response to the ongoing drought.

Effective immediately, the Utah County Parks Division will reduce its watering schedules at county parks “to reach a goal of an average irrigation water usage reduction of 40%,” according to the resolution,” which notes that the percentage of reduction “will vary from park to park depending on the irrigation system, park use, and park specific needs.”

Additionally, irrigation watering at the Spanish Fork River will be reduced to watering only the trees, meaning “the meadow grass areas will not be watered, with the expectation that the meadow grass will recover in the spring, even with dry conditions.”

Watering of the arena of the North County Equestrian Park, meanwhile, will be reduced by 33%, and a humic substance “will be applied in turf grass areas to improve retention of water and nutrients in areas where practicable, within budget limitations.”

Also effective immediately, the Utah County Buildings and Grounds Division “will implement water conservation procedures in the grounds and landscaping maintained by the County to reach a goal of an average irrigation water usage reduction of 35%.”

Additionally, the county “will investigate longer term changes to water usage practices, including xeriscape and low water use landscaping.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Bill Lee said the resolution “is a follow-up measure” to last week’s declared state of emergency “to show that we’re not just stating it, we’re actually going to do things that we have control over.”

“We don’t have control over the clouds, or else we would make it rain,” said Lee. “But we do have control over sprinklers that artificially make it rain.”

Public Works Director Richard Nelson told the commissioners that “we (the county) have a substantial amount of landscape that we irrigate, so it is a substantial amount of water (that will be saved).”

“On a weekly basis, I would say we’re in the hundreds of thousands of gallons, when you take all of our facilities into account,” Nelson said.

“So a 35% reduction is significant,” noted Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner.

Commissioner Tom Sakievich asked whether the county should also consider interlocal agreements with cities in the county as part of the effort to conserve water.

“I see a lot of movement in cities already,” Lee responded. “They’re already moving in that direction, independent of anything that we’re doing.”

In a written statement following the resolution’s passing, Lee said that “it is important for government to lead by example, which is why I directed our Utah County Public Works department to look into reducing water usage in parks and on the grounds of our county buildings.”

“During this drought, we all must do what we can to protect our most precious natural resource,” he said. “I strongly encourage all Utah County residents and organizations to do their part in helping us to conserve water. Cutting back on lawn watering schedules, limiting showers to just a few minutes, avoiding actions that could lead to fires, and washing full loads of laundry are some of the ways we can help mitigate the threat to our water supply.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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