Rain, Irrigation, and Drought

Under the circumstances of the drought we are in along with the rest of the Western United States, it is understandable why many people are concerned about City property being watered when we have had so much rain. There are two related topics which seem to be generating conversation.

1. With the drought and the threat of water shortages, shouldn’t we be moving to xeriscape and cutting back on watering all together?

To put first things first, the drought the West is experiencing right now is no joke. We do live in a desert and I am keenly aware that water is a precious resource. We can not live without it, and thus it is our responsibility to exercise good judgement and positive stewardship over this resource. Many of you have been having conversations about the drought, irrigation, and conservation on Facebook and in other social venues. You are not alone. This is a conversation that I have been having with my administration, our Parks and Recreation director, and with the Ranches HOA. We are thinking critically about how the City should best manage its resources.

These conversations have great significance to our long term future. I want to give everyone perspective on our short term water outlook (the next two or three years). Eagle Mountain does have an ordinance that prohibits watering between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., though we have not imposed any additional watering restrictions at this time. The ordinance is intended to maintain efficient use of water and to smooth out the demand placed on our water system infrastructure. As our source and supply of water is concerned, we are in a better position than many other communities.

Secondary Water vs. Culinary Water

Most communities under water restrictions rely on spring runoff, and reclamation of storm drain and waste water in surface ponds. That water is then used throughout their communities for irrigation purposes and often for fire suppression (fire hydrants). When spring runoff is low (as it has been this year), or when residents all use water at the same time, or use it wastefully, reservoirs can be drained quickly. When fire suppression systems and irrigation systems both rely on this secondary water, conservation becomes even more important.

Eagle Mountain does not have a secondary water system and thus we do not rely directly on runoff or reservoirs. We have culinary water for both fire suppression and irrigation. This water comes from two sources. Our water comes from several wells within Eagle Mountain, and also from Central Utah Water Project water which is piped into Eagle Mountain from deep wells on the east side of Utah Lake. Because Eagle Mountain requires developers to bank water rights with the city before the approval of development, we have sufficient water resources to meet existing needs. We do sometimes restrict usage at certain times in order to allow our storage tanks to recharge, though this typically happens in the peak heat of the summer months. Though our water supply is not under threat as it may be in other cities, we still must do all we can to conserve our water resources.

Work is being done to address our irrigation issues on several fronts. To conserve water, the City has turned off many of our irrigation timers. The City has over 100 throughout City Center and parts of The Ranches. The Ranches HOA manages over 100 timers as welll, and they have turned off many of those timers as well. There are two types of timers controlling both City Center and Ranches systems. There are main control timers which control as many as forty different zones or valves. These timers have been turned off already and have been for some time. The other type of timers are battery operated and located in valve boxes throughout the City. There are many of these timers and they have not been turned off as they must be turned off one by one at each box. To turn off all timers when rain is forecasted would take quite a while and they would likely need to be turned back on by the time we got them all turned off. Obviously, this is not an ideal system.

We see the writing on the wall. Water resources are under increasing pressure as we experience a huge population boom along the Wasatch Front and especially in Northern Utah County. We are looking at our existing irrigation system and ways to conserve water, though we must focus on controlling what we have responsibly as a first step. This has been our primary focus.

2.  With the technology available, why can’t we just put in rain sensors and turn the irrigation system off when it is raining.

There are many technologies and strategies available to increase water conservation in irrigation systems. In last years budget cycle we allocated funds to start the process of switching over to centrally controlled timers so that irrigation programs could be more complex and more closely monitored. As we began looking closely at the benefits of such irrigation systems, we realized that we would not fully realize the benefits of our investment if we did not address other issues with the system first. We have gone back to the drawing board to address not only our irrigation system, but our landscape plan as well. With all new landscaping and irrigation we have adopted water wise planning concepts. The existing system is being scrutinized as we consider how to most effectively maintain attractive open spaces, while increasing our efficiency of water usage. As we formulate a comprehensive plan for making improvements and solving problems, we will be sure to communicate with you. As always, feel free to post your comments or questions and I’ll be happy to respond as I am able.

12 thoughts on “Rain, Irrigation, and Drought

  1. Although you call out only the Ranches hoa, I would hope you’ve also reached out to others such as Silver Lake, Evans Ranch, etc. The city is much more than the simplistic portrayal of City Center and Ranches.

    • Adam, to offer clarification, my intent is not to call out anyone. I mentioned Ranches HOA by name in one instance to call attention to the fact that we are working together to find solutions to some specific issues with irrigation managed by the Ranches Master HOA. I believe we are making positive progress together. The challenges are complicated and will require cooperation to resolve. I definitely do not view this as an “us against them” situation. We are both working toward the same goals. In all other instances where I mention “the Ranches”, my only intent is to identify a broad scope of geographical area, and not to isolate The Ranches in a more literal sense. We do have challenges that exist in many different places within Eagle Mountain and the seventy three acres of open space we have stewardship over. I don’t think the City has any interest in pointing fingers, lest we find two more pointing back at us. At the end of the day it is our responsibility. I see no need to hide from it. There are solutions to these problems, and I know we will find a way to implement them.

  2. Ferre Gardens (A facebook group)– is offering catch cups to perform water audits for homeowners. This is basically a test to check for uniformity as well as how much water the sprinkler system is putting out (precipitation rate)- the idea is to only water what is needed. In almost all cases- people who do this audit with their sprinkler systems end up saving water and have healthier landscapes. Ferre Gardens is not a business— just an Eagle Mountain homeowner who has the equipment that can be checked out/borrowed to the residents of Eagle Mountain.

    Ferre Gardens also has information on how frequently to water according to data collected by the Utah State Extension offices so homeowners know the proper watering schedule for this area. Anybody interested in this information should go to https://www.facebook.com/FerreGardens?ref=bookmarks

    • Ryan, Thank you so much for speaking up. With your permission, I’d like to share this information with residents more broadly through social media. Would you be okay with that?

      • Mayor Pengra,

        Absolutely, I am a horticulturist and avid gardner. When I moved to Eagle Mountain everybody told me that I couldn’t grow things out here. I proved everybody wrong. I want to be able to garden and have a wonderful looking landscape for many years to come. I created the Facebook page Ferre Gardens a few years ago as a way to educate our local gardners. Living in a desert means that we should always be using conservative measures with how we irrigate our property. I used to work with the Slow the Flow program which is still available for free through the Central Utah Water Conservation District. However, the free water check doesn’t include all of your sprinkler zones. We should always water 1/2″ of water regardless of the time of year, what we should change is the frequency of watering. On the facebook page, I keep track of the precipitation (information from other state resources) and keep people up to date on the frequency of watering for our area. I would love to plan a few short classes to teach people proper watering techniques for turfgrass (including on how to perform an irrigation audit to find out how long our sprinklers need to be on to water 1/2″), shrubs/trees, and vegetable/flower gardens. It is my passion to have healthy and water efficient landscapes in our lovely city. Yes, please share this information!

        Ryan

  3. 2 years ago I stopped using my sprinklers automated timing and began manual starting only when I noticed lawn drying. It has saved me a lot of money. I’d suggest it to everyone. Water when really needed and you will save water and money.

  4. I could only imagine the resources that the city would have at its disposal with the abolishment of the second parks department (Ranches HOA) and instead raised a little in property taxes. Wouldn’t it be better to have the city take care of its property instead of allowing the HOA to say that they do it. I would love to see these over paid and useless management groups expelled from our community. When ask what they provide its nothing more that watering and cutting grass. I would prefer my money go to the city where if they don’t spend our dollars wisely we elect someone who will.

  5. Xeriscape is briefly mentioned but not really addressed. The greatest danger and evil against water conservation is HOAs who REQUIRE a large percentage of green grass thus ultimately not allowing xeriscaped properties. We live in a desert yet those who live in an HOA cannot mimmick the natural landscape.

    • Actually, you can. The Ranches allows and encourages xeriscape. Under a xeriscape scenario, you could go down to 30% turf in your front yard. Xeriscape utilizes plants that thrive in our conditions, although they will still need water; just much less than traditional landscapes. I’m not aware of what other HOA’s in the City require, but I do know Ranches allows it. It is not used much because there are higher up-front costs and when most people landscape, the cheapest thing to do is throw down sod everywhere.

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