Hyde Park water

Hyde Park Mayor Charles Wheeler talks about a city water tank at Lions Park on Friday morning.

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Enough Hyde Park residents heeded last week’s emergency request to reduce lawn watering that the city’s tanks have had a chance to refill, according to the mayor, but vigilance is still needed in this extreme drought year.

Last week, Mayor Charles Wheeler sent out an email and text stating that if residents kept using culinary water at the rate they were, the city’s tanks could be depleted by the weekend. Thanks to the efforts of the city and many residents, Wheeler said in an interview this Thursday, that Hyde Park stopped using more water than its spring in Birch Canyon could supply in a 24-hour period, allowing its series of three water tanks to refill overnight like they need to.

“We feel good about the response that most of our citizens have done,” Wheeler said. “We feel like there are some citizens that are going above and beyond in their efforts to conserve, and that there are some others that are not doing their part.”

Because some residents don’t have text messaging numbers or emails listed with the city, or list an email they may not check regularly, Wheeler said not everyone got his emergency request to halve lawn-watering. Others got the message but didn’t take action, and Wheeler said he heard various excuses for that. Nonetheless, the request seems to have done the trick.

“Those (residents) that did respond managed to cut the flow enough that then there was more water coming into the tanks than there was going out,” Wheeler said, “and within 24 hours, our tanks were back to acceptable levels, which meant that they were full or near-full.”

Wheeler said that the city would never allow its tanks to run dry — he wrote in his email that the tanks could run dry by last weekend at last week’s usage rates to illustrate the severity of the deficit, based on projections from the city’s SCADA system monitoring water usage.

“We haven’t even come close to that scenario,” Wheeler said. “We would not allow it to happen.”

The city can identify which of its water customers are consuming the most, and before Hyde Park ever got to a point where indoor water use or firefighting ability would be affected, the city has last-resort options it could use.

“We would just go to individuals that were watering and we would turn their water off if they refused to quit watering,” Wheeler said. “And this is outside water. And we would probably, in a worst, worst-case scenario, we would just tell our citizens that all outside watering is prohibited.”

Although again, Wheeler said, those are extreme hypotheticals the city hasn’t come close to.

The city is taking other steps to reduce water usage, Wheeler said, which will be increasingly important as the summer progresses and flow from the city’s spring will likely keep diminishing, barring a lot of unexpected rainfall.

After Wheeler’s emergency request last week, city officials identified about 20 of its commercial and nonresidential customers, including churches, using the most water and has sent letters requesting they reduce outdoor watering. They’ve also sent letters to the 200 highest-consuming residences explaining the situation and asking for cooperation, Wheeler said, and they’ve reached out and asked owners of new homes to hold off on landscaping until fall.

Before any of its other measures, the city had already started cutting irrigation at its properties, including parks. Grass in many areas of city parks and parking strips is yellow, although the city is still watering more in certain areas to help young trees grow. Parks with secondary water have cut back only 25%, including a city park near Cedar Ridge Middle School where watering hasn’t been cut as much accommodate a fireworks display and soccer games.

Some of the negative reactions to the mayor’s request reflected more general anxieties around growth in the valley.

“One question I have is why does Hyde park planning and zoning keep rubber stamping dozens of new homes for construction when we clearly live in a drought zone,” Gary Bracken commented on a city announcement on Facebook. “Where do they think the water for new homes is going to come from?”

Along similar lines, Paula Lake Purser wrote: “Has no one been monitoring the water situation? I am appalled that the residents would be given this short notice about lack of water. I am thankful for my well. The situation seems one of greed. Taking all the money for building permits but unable to supply sufficient water. Wow. Unbelievable.”

The city is in the process of adding to its water storage capacity, with a new 2 million-gallon tank under construction in Hyde Park Canyon.

“We couldn’t control the fact that the drought is this year instead of next year when we would have been better prepared” with the addition of the new tank and additional pumps, Wheeler said. “But we had already started and we’re trying to meet the needs that are occurring.”

The Hyde Park Canyon tank will add to the city’s three existing tanks: A 1 million-gallon tank on the east end of Long Hill (more popularly known as the SV Hill for the initials of Sky View High School on its west face); a half-million-gallon tank near 900 East; and a 1.2 million-gallon tank at Lions Park. Last week those existing tanks were emptying faster in a 24-hour period than they could refill, Wheeler said, and the city’s pumps were running 24/7, trying to get as much water as high into the system as they could. This week thanks to residents’ conservation, those pumps have been running between about 14 and 18 hours a day, Wheeler said.

During last week’s water usage scare, over three days operators watched the Sky View tank drop from 19 feet to 16 to 14 to about 8, Wheeler said — “but 300,000 gallons can disappear in a hurry.”

To Wheeler, some of the city’s residents seem to be trying to close the door after themselves, but the city is limited in what it can tell people to do with their property — and that includes development.

“People and their children want to come here and want to have a nice place,” Wheeler said. “We can provide that. We can build in sensible ways that are sustainable, and we’re preparing for that growth.”

The trick is getting residents to work together so individuals aren’t overusing a public resource, according to the mayor.

“If people, all these people, overuse the resource, even on a rainy year where we had the most water we could coming into the system, they could make water come out of the tank faster than we could put it in,” Wheeler said. “And that’s the problem. When people just overuse the resource, then they steal from their neighbors and their ability to also utilize the water that we have here in the West.”

Outdoor watering is the biggest draw on the city’s system in summer, and there are a number conservation steps people can take, Wheeler said. Letting grass go yellow and dormant while focusing on watering trees is one option. Lowering sprinklers’ water pressure is another, because in many cases adding more pressure doesn’t increase coverage but lets more water droplets escape into the atmosphere.

Wheeler was appointed mayor after Sharidean Flint died of brain cancer in April. Prior to that, he’d served on the City Council for more than 20 years, and much of his knowledge of Hyde Park’s water system comes from his council assignments over that time. He is not seeking reelection, and this year former mayor Bryan L. Cox is running unopposed for the office.

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