Amy Choate-Nielsen: Conservation programs target water use

Published: Tuesday, July 8 2008 12:07 a.m. MDT

WEST JORDAN — She wears the garb of a succulent plant — spiny, yet feminine — with a hose for a lasso.

She occasionally appears in West Jordan's water bill, reminding residents to conserve water, and city employees say Cactus Kate is making a difference.

The cartoon character is just one approach the city has taken to encourage water conservation, and it's largely made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. West Jordan is one of five of the 11 cities serviced by the district that are actively participating in the district's conservation programs.

Since rain was common in late May and early June, the district is worried its customers will forget how important conservation is.

"There's only so much we can do as a wholesale water provider," said Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District conservation programs manager Courtney Brown. "We have to get the agencies that are selling water to the people to implement a lot of these programs, so by funding some of these programs for them, that's how we can achieve conservation."

During the drought that lasted from about 2000 to 2005, Brown said, the overall use of water for residential, commercial and institutional uses dropped steadily in the district's service area from 255 gallons per capita per day in 2000 to 207 gallons per capita per day in 2005. But in the past two years, that rate has crept back up to 252 gallons per capita per day. That's a trend that worries water watchers all over the state.

"We really do believe that per capita water use has been dropping overall, long term, but that could have been in response to the drought," said Eric Klotz, Utah's Division of Water Resources water conservation and education section chief. "Now we're not in a drought anymore, people could be increasing their usage again. We're trying to get people to change their ethic so that it's not just about drought. Conservation is simply the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to meet the water needs of the growing population."

The Division of Water Resources has a statewide goal to reduce overall water consumption by 25 percent by 2050, but the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District has a goal to reduce overall water consumption in their district by 25 percent by 2025. The reason: drought or not, there isn't enough water to support unlimited usage and a population that is growing at astronomical rates.

West Jordan, South Jordan, Magna, Kearns and Bluffdale are participating in the district's grant program this year to promote water conservation in their communities. The cities receive $50,000 for submitting a water conservation plan, adopting the district's 2025 goal, demonstrating a decrease in water consumption and matching the grant with 20 percent of their own funds.

South Jordan offers rebates to residents who use smart clocks for irrigation; the Magna Water Improvement District updated its community Web site, www.magnawater.com; the Kearns Improvement District is offering a toilet rebate program; and Bluffdale added water-wise landscaping to its city park and is updating the city's water conservation plan.

West Jordan focuses on public education, offers rebates for water-wise plants and distributes high-pressure, low-water, prerinse nozzles to restaurants.

"We know we're making progress, even though everyone in the state had a bad year last year," said West Jordan management analyst Stephen Glain. "The way we see it, we would have used even more water without all of these programs going on. This year we expect to see an actual drop in water consumption as a result of the water conservation programs."

Utahns use two-thirds of their culinary water for outdoor use, including irrigation, Glotz said. That's one reason the district emphasizes water-wise plants as part of its outreach program to residents. The district's conservation garden Web site, www.conservationgardenpark.org, has a database of Utah-friendly water-wise plants and suggestions for landscaping design.

The district is expanding its 2.5-acre conservation garden by another two acres, which will make it the largest conservation garden in Utah. The garden showcases appropriate plants for Utah's climate and it's more than piles of rocks and clumps of cactuses.

"A lot of people think of a water-wise landscape as a bunch of rocks with a cactus out there or a wagon wheel or something like that, and that's a misconception we want people to get away from," Brown said. "We want to demonstrate a lush type of landscape with a lot of plant choices and options available."

The district hosts free classes on water-wise landscaping throughout the summer that are listed on the district Web site, www.jvwcd.org. The classes focus on how to transition a standard lawn to a more water-wise landscape through a series of conversion steps.

"I don't believe that everyone wants yards full of grass, it's just what people know how to do," said Cynthia Bee, a landscape designer who teaches classes at the district. "We can get people excited about water-wise landscaping because they see pictures of what it looks like and it's beautiful. That's what's in it for me. I want my kids to have water and all of those resources we need for the future and we're just on a collision course. What we're doing presently is simply unsustainable. By no stretch of the imagination can we continue as we're going."


E-mail: achoate@desnews.com

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