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Summit County Towns Halt New Home Construction Due to Water Scarcity

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Associated Press

In the midst of Utah’s most severe drought in decades, two Summit County towns, Oakley and Henefer, have implemented building moratoriums to deal with water scarcity.


This spring, Oakley declared a six-month moratorium on any new building approvals that would require a water connection.


The city had already banned the use of its culinary water for ponds, pools or other water features. Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme said they decided that it wasn’t fair to restrict their current residents, but allow new growth that would require water.


Although Utah is facing an extremely dry summer, Woolstenhulme said water restrictions aren’t new in his town.


“The summer months is high water use for Oakley City,” he said. “Wintertime, we don’t have any trouble at all keeping our tanks full. In the summertime, with culinary use being used in watering lawns and everything, well, we’ve had trouble with it ever since I’ve been mayor. We’ve had to go to two-day watering or every-other-day watering in the summertime just to get by.”


To resolve the situation, Oakley plans to drill a new well. Woolstenhulme said the city’s hydrologist is confident they have found a good location. Engineering is underway, and the city hopes to have the well up and running by next summer.


Woolstenhulme said residents who violate the culinary water ban for water features could face a $10,000 fine.


But he said the locals have been responsible about the limitations.


“Our water master went around to all the areas that have the ponds, water features early in May, explaining to them the situation,” he said. “And we have not received any kickback whatsoever from the residents.”


Ultimately, Woolstenhulme said the city does have enough water to get through this season.


“I checked with our water master. He’s regulating the water that comes from our water sources to make sure that our tanks are maintaining the depth that they need,” he said. “And he feels like we’re doing pretty dang good for the situation we’re in.”


Meanwhile, at the other end of the county, the town of Henefer also isn’t permitting new buildings that need a water hook-up. 


Henefer mayor Mayor Kay Richins said the moratorium has existed for close to two years, and he guesses that construction of about a dozen buildings has been held up. 


Richins said Henefer’s problem is that the city doesn’t have a secondary water source. Like Oakley, their supply of culinary water, for drinking, has also been used for outside watering.


The city’s supply comes from springs located in nearby Franklin Canyon and Bachelor Canyon.


They are planning to identify a secondary source, but that project has run into some bumps due to easements.


“What’s happened now is because it’s taken us longer to get those things squared away, the price of pipe has doubled, or gone up substantially,” Richins said.


Richins said the town will seek more funding for the project. He said he feels for the frustrated younger residents who want to be able to stay in town and build homes near their parents, but there’s little they can do now.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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