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The City Journals

SoJo honored by governor for water efficiency practices

Oct 03, 2019 01:58PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

SoJo City Manager Gary Whatcott and SoJo Mayor Dawn Ramsey accepted the first-ever Water Efficiency Award for the state of Utah. (Governor’s Office of Management and Budget)


By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

News flash: The 12th-fastest growing city in the county and the city recently named one of the top-50 cities to live in by USA Today is no longer just “South Jordan.”

As praised by Gov. Gary Herbert, South Jordan is also “Water-Smart SoJo.”

South Jordan not just earns—but inspires—creation of Water Efficiency Award for state of Utah

In early September, Herbert decorated SoJo Mayor Dawn Ramsey and SoJo City Manager Gary Whatcott with a unique, statewide honor—the “Water Efficiency Award”—and also declared the city as Water-Smart SoJo.

Decades-long work the city has done not only earned the reception of the award but actually inspired the creation of the award itself. 

Every year the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget honors best practices in government throughout the state at its Operational Excellence Conference. Such programs and technologies are credited as being “breakthrough” and models for others throughout the state to learn from.

The Sept. 10 awards ceremony was a climax to the OMB’s “Building on Success 2019: Unleash Your Full Potential” conference at the Davis Conference Center in Layton. The presentation of the award to SoJo represents the first time the OMB has ever honored municipal leadership for diligent, strategic consideration of water security, water preservation and other issues. 

Water-Smart SoJo’s seeking water security: Why Herbert praised South Jordan leadership

Herbert and OMB Executive Director Kristen Cox indicated being impressed with SoJo’s leadership for Utah water security with its first-of-its kind “innovative water re-use demonstration project”—The Pure SoJo project written about in South Jordan Journal in June.

“As Utah’s population continues to grow, the way we view and use water matters,” Cox said. “I commend South Jordan City for empowering residents to make wise water decisions and taking actionable steps as a city to conserve.”

The Pure SoJo pilot project seeks to explore secondary water resources—beyond the city’s current only source for water, the Jordan Valley Water District. 

Through funds from the state, Pure SoJo will leverage a four-step process for wastewater reuse as irrigation water or even, down the road, as potable drinking water. 

South Jordan officials envision the possibility of the water becoming a permanent secondary or even primary supply for not just the city but for many cities throughout Salt Lake County.

The project is slated to begin, cautiously, as a multi-year demonstration experiment, housed in a structure to be constructed proximate to the Jordan River. Once wastewater is treated through the rigorous process, it will be released into the Jordan River. As noted above, future implementation of the technology may yield irrigation or even drinking water.

Pure SoJo is modeled after an award-winning potable water reuse project conducted by Altamonte Springs, Florida, a suburb with a population approximately half that of South Jordan’s current 85,000.

South Jordan officials and guests from various stakeholder groups have visited Altamonte Springs and are not only borrowing its marketing (their project name is PureALTA), but, more importantly, gleaning best practices from their test site. In 2018 PureALTA won a global aware as WateReuse [sic] Project of the Year.


Water security core to SoJo’s city values and long-term strategic planning

South Jordan officially articulates the values of safe, sustainable growth and fiscal responsibility in its list of city values. Under the leadership of Whatcott, in tandem of municipal elected leadership, began researching and strategizing SoJo’s water security more than 15 years ago.


Whatcott indicated the award is a credit to “a culmination” of efforts.

“It represents a culmination of all of our hard work over many years to pursue conservation efforts,” he told the South Jordan Journal. The project, he said, is “a culmination of many efforts by the city to try to reduce water usage.”

Whatcott indicates city ordinances—such as those directing water-wise landscaping—teamed with other strategies such as water-conservation education and grants for low-flow plumbing fixtures to squarely position SoJo as a sustainable, water-smart city.

Whatcott even hired a full-time water-conservation officer, Jason Rasmussen, who is captaining the Pure SoJo project, which, Whatcott says, is currently “under RFP” or request-for-proposal status in terms of engineering and project management.


Ramsey indicates wanting to bring the city’s knowledge assets to the statewide stage, helping Utah, the second-driest state in the country, become more sustainable and water-secure.

Beyond Pure SoJo: Other city practices to ensure water security

In addition to the Pure SoJo test project, the city was praised for these water-smart practices:
• Citywide smart meter installation for culinary water
• The WaterSmartSoJo website and customer data portal (including ability for residents and business customers to inspect water use down to the day and hour, make comparisons with neighboring water users and set their own water- conservation targets)
• Leak-detection analytics, coordinated with customer notifications
• Water conservation rebates and customer workshops
• Landscape-ordinance rewrites to better encourage water-wise use
• Improved municipal water stewardship through a state-of-the-art central control system 

The final consideration: The economic hammer

Nick Schou, conservation director for the Utah Rivers Council Conservation Director, previously doused skepticism on the Pure SoJo project. Schou indicated conservation being a less expensive strategy than re-use technology. 

South Jordan apparently has an answer to that concern, with new statewide nods for the city’s tiered water rates that encourage water efficiency.