Water usage in Summit County is up slightly over last year despite drought | ParkRecord.com

Water usage in Summit County is up slightly over last year despite drought

Large residences appear to be driving the growth

The Jordanelle Reservoir's water level is low as the Wasatch Back, like the rest of Utah, remains mired in drought. Officials say the year-over-year water use in two of the largest Summit County water districts has increased despite the drought.
Alexander Cramer/Park Record

Water consumption went up this June compared to the same month last year in the two largest water districts in Summit County, officials said. The increase is driven at least in part by significant growth in water usage in large residences like those found in gated communities including Promontory and The Colony.

Officials from the Mountain Regional Water District on Thursday said that June’s water usage had increased 4% compared to June 2020. That’s a similar trend as seen in the Park City Water District, the city’s utilities manager said.

Both districts, which together with the Summit Water Distribution Company are the three largest providers in the area, said that even with the elevated numbers, water consumption is much less than it was 10 years ago.

But this year-over-year increase comes amid a historic drought and as officials have been trying to convince users to reduce the amount of water they use.

“At least let’s flatten this (growth), let alone have it growing, and then maybe we can get to actually using less,” said Scott Anderson, Mountain Regional’s chief financial officer. He was speaking at the district’s monthly Administrative Control Board meeting.

He and the district’s director, Scott Morrison, said they were looking forward to July’s numbers to see if the district’s efforts to promote conservation have been working.

Residential water use was almost the same as last year, Mountain Regional said, but for large residential customers — a distinct category defined as a home larger than 3,000 square feet — the usage grew 13% over last year, contributing to the overall 4% spike.

Morrison said that larger residential users comprise about 25% of the district’s total connections, but that number could change as the district was examining its classification system.

Morrison said part of the growth in water use could come from second-home owners moving to the area during the pandemic, but indicated the installation and maintenance of landscaping likely contributed the bulk of the increase.

“Outdoor usage is really the main driver of total volume,” Morrison said.

Growth also likely played a factor.

According to statistics presented at the board meeting, the district normally sees 56 requests for water service at this point in the year. In 2021, that number is 239, four times the average. The trend is the same in Promontory, which normally sells 13 lots by this point of the year and thus far has sold 54, according to Mountain Regional.

Representatives from Promontory and The Colony did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Clint McAffee, Park City’s public utilities director, said growth in that district, which delivers the most water in the area, grew about 5% in June compared to the same month in 2020, but both months were “significantly lower” than prior years.

McAffee and Morrison said that rate increases and so-called “smart meters” helped contribute to reducing water use over the last decade.

The rates make it more expensive to use more water — users pay more for water above a certain amount — and the smart meters alert the districts to water overuse that could be caused by a leak in the system.

Morrison said the meters notify district officials if water has been running for 24 hours in a row, often indicative of a leak. The district will then contact the homeowner to notify them of the issue.

The meters also alert Mountain Regional to those who are violating the district’s rule against watering on consecutive days. That rule has been in place and is not a result of the current drought, Morrison said.

Mountain Regional is in the process of notifying homeowners who are violating the rule, which results in escalating penalties starting with a warning and ending up with fines.

While the rule is not new, Morrison said the district is stepping up enforcement efforts now.

The Summit County Council, which oversees Mountain Regional, indicated in recent drought-related talks that water districts themselves, rather than the county government, should impose and enforce water restrictions.

Morrison said he was using the district’s staff to do so.

On Thursday, the Administrative Control Board indicated support for the district’s drought response plan. That plan includes rate changes and penalties the district can impose during drought conditions.

The board would consider implementing the plan in April after hearing whether the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District plans to restrict the water it supplies to Mountain Regional.

Morrison said the district was not operating under drought conditions this year and that Weber Basin had not restricted its water supply.

He was also considering asking the board to increase rates on those using the most water. Already, he said, the rate structure increases exponentially, but he advocated on Thursday that the board consider increasing the top-end rates. The extra revenue, he said, could be used to establish lawn-replacement and other conservation-related programming.

Anderson indicated that the potential rate hike would only affect a small number of users.

“It’s not a huge percentage of our customers that would really be impacted from what we’re seeing right now,” Anderson said. “It would just be those really high users who, for lack of a better term, don’t seem to really care how much they use or how much they pay.”

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