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The City Journals

South Jordan City to Begin Looking at Alternative Water Sources

Mar 10, 2016 09:29AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Sandra Osborn | [email protected]

South Jordan - The city council engaged in a presentation and discussion on water issues at their Feb. 2 meeting. Former Mayor Scott Osborne, South Jordan resident and current Division 5 Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District (JVWCD) Trustee, along with Richard Bay, General Manager, and Allen Packer, Assistant General Manager at JVWCD, presented the current and projected water needs of South Jordan as growth continues in the city. They discussed the situation South Jordan City finds itself in, geographically and in terms of water shares, ultimately proposing that the city would do well to begin to seek a new water supply. 

South Jordan gets 100 percent of its water from JVWCD. The water comes from sources like the Weber River, the Provo River and Duchene River. Water is captured and stored in reservoirs such as Jordanelle and Deer Creek. Water also comes from canals and wells throughout the state that grant access to groundwater. Such sources depend on a healthy snowpack. This year might be good, but the question is what happens next year and the year after that. The state of Utah is on year four of a drought. 

“Currently there is a slight water surplus, but it is bound to disappear soon without developing new sources for water,” Bay said. 

Water conservation continues to be an important aspect of maintaining adequate water supply. Water conservation has already started to show deferred usage of water reserves. 

Population growth is driving water conservation efforts. Ninety percent of Utah’s population growth in 2014 was natural, that is, our own children and grandchildren. Marketing and public initiatives for water conservation are helping raise awareness. To achieve the current goal to reduce water use 25 percent per person by 2025, more aggressive approaches are needed.  

“Why is it important for the city and the government to be proactive in water conservation? Why do we not let price or the market do the job?” Mayor Alvord asked.

“Water is unique,” former Mayor Osborne said. “In part, it is a commodity, but in part it is the most essential resource needed in Utah. It is also scarce and limited. The legislation has stated that water is owned by the public, so it doesn’t follow market principles. It also has a public good aspect. Therefore, water is a quasi private, quasi public good.”

The city needs to get involved because under Utah law, the water right structure for being able to use affluent gives strong preference to municipalities (cities) instead of wholesalers such as JVWCD. 

“Utah’s laws are some of the most restrictive in the West,” Nathan Bracken, water attorney, said.

“We have no capacity to grow water. Legislators haven’t been that willing to work with us, but now they realize that it is something it’s going to have to happen,” Gary Whatcott, city manager, said. 

It is proposed that South Jordan look into the development of a demonstration project to study how reuse works and address education concerns about reuse. Currently, there are some federal funds available for exploring reuse, but there it will still be a significant cost for the users. It is unclear at this stage how expensive a reuse project would be. 

“We could have a better idea of potential funding by the federal government if we had a defined project,” Bracken said.  

One major concern is the large gap between investment and return. It could take up to 20 years before users see any benefits. 

“I think it is too early,” Alvord said. 

“There is a value that is intrinsic that is beyond the cost of production,” Osborne said.

City councilmembers Zander, Rogers, Shelton, Marlor and Harris are interested of at least finding the funds for carrying out a study with the intent of possibly defining a project that would investigate the feasibility of water reuse in South Jordan. Alvord opposed. 

“Where are we getting the money? What are we cutting to make this study happen?” Alvord said. 

“Before making a motion, I’d like to see a proposal to see where the funds would come from,” Marlor said. The council agreed to postpone further discussion until a proposal for study funds is available.