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As drought deepens, reports of water misuse in Ogden rise

June 28, 2021 GMT

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Matt Haack isn’t exactly a water cop.

But when someone reports suspected water waste or a violation of the city’s water-use guidelines, he, as Ogden’s water conservation coordinator, usually is called on to respond. Lately, he’s been busy.

Reports of water misdeeds, he said, are “coming in hot.” Since the city declared a water shortage on June 4 and called for increased water conservation, he says the complaints surpassed 200. That’s more than the 100-150 that had been reported in all between implementation of the city’s online water-waste reporting form back in 2017 and the June 4 declaration, the Standard-Examiner in Ogden reports.

And each of those reports — sometimes there are duplicates — will get attention, a response from Haack, most likely, or some of the other water officials helping with the situation. Typically, Haack or maybe a code enforcement officer will make a visit.

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“The vast majority of it is actually physical, boots on the ground, knocking on the door,” said Brady Herd, Haack’s boss and the city’s public utilities manager.

The calls have generally been about excessive lawn watering, watering that causes runoff into sidewalks and streets and lawn watering during prohibited times, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., which is the hottest part of the day. Typically, the visits to the offending waterers are focused on education — advising them of the rules, offering advice on adjusting errant sprinkler heads and providing information on the amount of water grass needs to survive (not as much as some people think). He’ll also explain the rationale for the water restrictions — that Weber County, like the rest of Utah, is in a drought, with dwindling water supplies and little to spare.

Sometimes, city officials encounter defiance, Herd said. “’Hey, I pay for my water. I don’t care. I’m going to use it,’” some will say, he said.

By and large, though, the people Haack visits are receptive. “I can count on one hand the times when someone’s gotten angry,” he said. If someone isn’t home, he’ll place a hanger on their door with information advising the occupant of the water issue and the potential fines for watering between 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ($50 for the first offense).

So far the city hasn’t issued any fines, according to Herd, just focused on education and providing information. Likewise, the city isn’t out looking for offenders, though if water officials are out and about on other business and come across an offense, they may knock on a door. “We’re not doing dedicated patrols or anything like that,” Haack said.

But, says Herd, it’s getting to the point where the city may start issuing citations to repeat offenders. And, citations or not, officials are redoubling efforts to get the word out.

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In Washington Terrace, officials have adopted the slogan ”Tan is the new green” to encourage people to reduce lawn watering and let their grass go dormant, even if it means turf turns yellow. Like Weber County’s irrigation water suppliers, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and Pineview Water Systems, Washington Terrace is asking its residents to water their lawns no more than twice weekly. Much of the water for Weber County comes from the Pineview Reservoir, which is way below capacity.

“We’re just hoping people will be using best practices,” said Tom Hanson, the Washington Terrace city manager.

In Riverdale, city officials announced a new restriction to keep watering to a minimum. Homes and businesses with even-numbered addresses may water on even-numbered days while those with odd-numbered addresses may water on odd-numbered days. The hope is to reduce watering at individual addresses to just twice a week.

“Our goal over the next several weeks is a 20% reduction in outside watering. If we are unable to meet that goal additional restrictions will be implemented,” reads a post from Monday on the city’s Facebook page. The post went on, warning, without elaboration, that restrictions “will be enforced.”

Washington Terrace officials, according to Hanson, don’t plan to go out and police water use. At any rate, the public, it seems, is taking on that role, judging by the calls Ogden and other locales are getting.

Several officials in North Ogden have received complaints related to water use, said Jon Call, the North Ogden city attorney. “Currently we are directing those complaints to Pineview water since the individuals are violating their recommendations, not any city rules or procedures,” he said.