Oakley, citing drought, has paused development | ParkRecord.com

Oakley, citing drought, has paused development

Council issues a ban on new building permits that require water connection

Hill rise around the Weber River corridor in Oakley. City officials, citing drought conditions, will not issue building permits for 6 months for projects that require a connection to the city’s water system.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Oakley officials, citing concerns over drought conditions and the city’s water supply, have temporarily banned new development, saying they want to avoid a potential water crisis and ensure they have enough water for the city’s current residents.

Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme said construction already underway will be allowed to continue, and the moratorium won’t affect projects that already have building permits. New building permits for projects that require a water connection, however, will not be issued for six months.

“With the drought, it didn’t make a lot of sense to let people keep building,” Woolstenhulme said.

Officials estimated there would be a handful of projects affected by the moratorium.

The city gets its water from two springs and a well, City Councilor Tom Smart said, and two of the sources are performing at less-than-expected levels. A new well is scheduled to come on line next year, and Smart said the city was “probably a little behind on sourcing new water.”

“We’re on kind of a fast track right now to clear out a new well and get that worked out,” he said. “… Of course, that’s not going to help us in this horrible year, just prepare for next year.”

He was confident the additional well would address the city’s water woes, saying it had been about 20 years since a new source was brought into the system.

“In that 20 years, we’ve had a reasonable amount of growth,” he said. “I think the future looks really good for water in Oakley, but this is going to be a tough year.”

He said the city usually receives a few building permits annually and that it had received triple the usual amount this year. That, combined with the drought and the increased water demands coming from the reopening of the former Oakley School, led officials to seek a proactive solution to ward off a potential water crisis.

The city will not approve any building permit applications that require a new connection to the city’s water system or extending an existing connection. It also bans the installation of new landscaping that requires irrigation with city water.

The City Council’s vote came after a previous moratorium expired in January, which officials said they enacted to overhaul the city’s land-use plans and guiding documents.

When the current moratorium expires in the fall, the city will have not processed most types of substantial building permits in 12 of the previous 16 months. The previous moratorium allowed for home improvement projects but banned projects on the scale of constructing a new home or business, or subdividing land.

City planner Stephanie Woolstenhulme said that eight building permits that would have been barred by the new moratorium — ones that require water connections — were approved in the months between the two moratoriums. She estimated that around five applications would not be processed because of the new ban.

“Due to the nature of a smallish ‘building window,’ I think that many of the permits were already submitted so they could start building as soon as spring came,” she wrote in an email to The Park Record.

The moratorium is set to end in November, meaning it is likely those hoping to build in Oakley will have to wait until after the winter season.

Oakley has implemented particularly strict water conservation measures, pausing development and enacting a $10,000 fine for illicitly using city water to fill a swimming pool or personal pond.

Smart said it was brought to the city’s attention last year that those sorts of private water features used hundreds of thousands of gallons of water citywide.

Oakley’s South Summit neighbors haven’t gone quite as far with water restrictions, but have also taken steps to reduce consumption. Oakley, Francis and Kamas have all restricted watering hours to 6 p.m. to 10 a.m., with Francis and Oakley further restricting watering to every other day.

Kamas Mayor Matt McCormick said the city is monitoring the situation closely and would enact stricter measures when necessary.

Smart said he anticipated Oakley officials would further reduce watering to twice per week in the next month or so.

He said the city had taken steps to reduce its own water usage, moving to replace grass fields with turf ones and xeriscaping some of its land. City leaders have avoided what Smart called a “water crisis” in recent years, but it has been an uphill battle. A fire last year near Weber Canyon nearly drained the city’s water supply.

“When you have a million-gallon tank and you have to have 500,000 gallons of fire storage, you’re always fighting to be ahead of the curve in a very big way,” he said.

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