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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Washington County’s Water Situation Has Some Leaders Worried About New Development

A photo of Sand Hollow reservoir.
Lexi Peery
Sand Hollow is the most visited state park in Utah and the reservoir is a vital resource for Washington County.

Washington County is one of the fastest growing areas of Utah, but some local leaders are worried about new development and the county’s water supply.

The county’s Commission tabled two zone change requests on Tuesday for higher density in a rural part of the county. Owners of two lots in New Harmony, in the northern part of the county, were looking to change the zoning from agricultural to residential. The minimum lot sizes were about one acre.

Commission Chair Gil Almquist said they tabled the proposals because they’re concerned about the area’s water situation.

“Before we get a handle on the water situation, we cannot keep dipping a straw into our aquifers,” Almquist said Wednesday. “Until we know how much water we really have, I don't think it's responsible for us to be tapping into it.”

Typically, developers are required to have water assurances for subdivision approvals, not zone change requests, according to Scott Messel, the community development director for the county.

“Our standard has always required there to be the utilities provided [for subdivision approval],” Messel said, “but because of our current climate issues, the drought, all of that, it's being talked about and worried about more and more.”

Almquist said they’re now asking the applicants to come back with proof there’s enough water. He said that’s going to be the case for future zone change requests.

Zach Renstrom, the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said there’s enough water in the county, for now. But they’re still working on more infrastructure projects, like the planned Toquer Reservoir and potential water reuse systems.

“There's no question that if we didn't bring on new projects, we'd get to a point where we'd run out of water,” Renstrom said, “but that's why we're doing new projects.”

He said he’s also working with municipalities to implement strict conservation measures for all new developments.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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