A Guest Sunday Sermon, Co-authored with Barbara Farnsworth
(Note: Tom sent a private email — Tom won’t post directly at the site — in which he states that two points I make in the sermon aren’t quite right. I posted Tom’s email for him in the article. You might want to read Tom’s corrections at the end of the article.)
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Springdale conserves water better than other communities in southern Utah. One reason is that water costs more here than other communities in Southern Utah. The chart shows that water gets expensive a lot faster here in Springdale than in St. George.
(Water is generally more expensive in Springdale than in most of Utah. Researching this Sunday Sermon was a real education in western US and Utah water rates! This chart was developed using published rates at the St. George and Springdale web sites. My Excel spreadsheet is available for analysis.)
But we’re still not doing enough! If you’ve looked at the Virgin recently, and you have lived here more than a few years, you know that the river looks as low as it gets in August … and it has been low since last year. The weather forecast still shows zero rain. We’re in for a very tough summer.
Barbara Farnsworth asked me to co-author this Sunday Sermon with her. It started when Barbara sent the letter below to the town several weeks ago.
I realize that lush, green lawns look elegant but Springdale lies in the high-desert rainfall zone. Before we are involved in a huge drought, we need to consider how water will be used. The growth and remodeling these past few years could be very problematic. Specifically I am concerned with excessive water usage on large sodded grass areas that have been installed along SR 9. This includes The Hampton, Meme’s area, as well as smaller new sod lawns installed in several businesses. The La Quinta Inn water playground also needs to be addressed.
The Town Code, Title 10, Chapter 18, Landscaping states:
Acceptable Plant Species: Water conserving plants shall constitute at least eighty percent (80%), by area (including areas covered by turf), of the total landscape area on a site. Developments located in the foothills shall utilize plant species appropriate to less fertile soils. A list of recommended water conserving plant species, as adopted by resolution of the town council, shall be available in the town office.
Some standard needs to be implemented for future landscaping designs. Watering through automatic sprinkling systems when a rainstorm is occurring, or watering with broken sprinkler heads that flood the road, need to be regulated. Allowing La Quinta Inn to run water playground displays on a hot day when no one is even present at that area should be addressed.
The sod lawn size for home owners also needs attention. Many HOAs follow the town’s code that native plants (as those in the surrounding area) must be used outside the actual “building pod”.
Will these same sod lawns look good when they are dry, brittle, and brown? Please consider the need to save Springdale’s precious commodity.”
I have made the point before that writing a letter to the town isn’t a very effective way for the “people who just live here” to get anything done. In all my years of attending planning commission and town council meetings (some as a member), I have seldom heard of a letter even being mentioned. Most times, you have to ask to know if town officials have even read it.
Mary Stultz followed a different strategy. She paid her own lawyer (and it wasn’t cheap … for the town or Mary) and the district court then required the town to follow their own ordinances and state law. I was a big supporter for Mary because her cause was just and because the town had closed off every other course of action. But, in general, it shouldn’t have to come to that. That’s a big reason for this website. I’m trying to create a new way for the “people who just live here” to actually be a part of the decision making in our community without paying lawyers.
I asked Barbara if I could publish her letter at this site and she responded:
I have been fighting water waste on lawns and landscapes for a long time. I have tried to educate people through several state native plant societies, as well as turning around the plantings proposed for the Canyon Community Center when I saw their plans at an annual Earth day. I went to the Town and they gave me free range on converting typical “center plantings” to native plants as long as I followed the intent of the landscape designer. That was a fun job, working with Cheryl Decker at the park, and the landscape company. I was even able to have several plantings changed by the landscape company because they had very little knowledge that one species uses continual watering and not another – the wrong one was planted. Several of us hoped that the native plantings would showcase their beauty and diversity to the town and entice people to follow suite.
I am not looking for an active confrontation from people I live with. I will support you in a way that allows different ideas to coexist; compromise is okay, and peace is possible.
Barbara’s original letter to the town highlights a section of the town’s ordinances that I wasn’t fully aware of before this. As I listen to the planning commission and town council consider development applications, I hear about mere inches in building height and shades of color debated almost endlessly. (The town forced a change in the roof design of the Zion Adventure Company building because one end of the building was higher than allowed by a few inches even though the other end was within the limit.)
I asked for a copy of the list of “Acceptable Plant Species” and the recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation. I met with Tom to ask whether it would be possible to force the new La Quinta or Hampton developments to replant with water conserving species as required by the town code. Tom said that case law on this point is not consistent because developers can make the point that because the town allowed the development, they are not at fault and the town is responsible. It’s a good point.
It appears that since the town seems to be simply ignoring this section of their own code, the only logical step now is to start with the very next development application and remind the town of their responsibility to enforce their own code. That’s what I plan to do.
If the town persists in simply ignoring their own ordinances, maybe I’ll write a letter to Chief Wright and ask him to arrest Mayor Smith and the other members of the town council.
Other suggestions are welcome!
Tom’s Corrections (17 June 2014 – sent in a private email by Tom)
Great Sunday Sermon on water conservation. I agree with your main point that we all need to be doing a better job of managing water resources. I think there are things that can be done as individuals and as a town that can help make our water resources go farther. Thanks for highlighting this important issue.
However, there are two statements in your post that need to be clarified:
1) “The recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation [of the landscape ordinance].”
Although you never clearly state why you have made this conclusion, from the context of your post I assume you think the large amounts of turf included in both of these developments is out of compliance with the ordinance. However, nothing in the Town Code limits the amount of turf a development may have. The only regulation specifically addressing turf areas in the code is found in section 10-18-6(F). This section clearly envisions developers using turf as a landscape element. Far from limiting the amount of turf allowed, this section actually requires a minimum amount of turf when lawn is used as a landscape element. It also reinforces the standards of the plant list by stating that turf areas need to use drought tolerant grass varieties. The plant list identifies both fescue and rye grasses as acceptable grasses. The turf areas at both the Hampton and La Quinta are fescue/rye blend grasses. Thus, while I agree that the turf areas at these developments may use more water than other landscape choices, I don’t believe they are “clearly in violation” of the Town Code.
2) “I met with Tom to ask whether it would be possible to force the new La Quinta or Hampton developments to replant with water conserving species as required by the town code.”
This statement is a misleading half-truth. In reality you asked a general question regarding what would happen if the Planning Commission approved a hypothetical development in gross violation of the Town Code. You made no mention of either the La Quinta or the Hampton. You did not ask if the Town could force a developer to do anything. You merely asked what would happen in the generic hypothetical mentioned above. Even when I pressed you for specific details about developments that you were concerned about you divulged nothing about the Hampton, La Quinta or landscape requirements. The statement in your post makes it appear as if we discussed the specifics of the landscaping at the Hampton and La Quinta. This is misleading and untrue. Had you asked about landscaping at either of these developments I would have provided you with the information in the above paragraph. (This is an example of how an internet discussion forum / blog can easily spread misinformation by presenting out-of-context and incomplete information as the accurate whole truth.)
Thanks again for the post encouraging water conservation.
Dan Mabbutt reply to Tom’s Corrections
Thank YOU, both for the thanks and for the reply. I can see that you made a real effort to compose a careful reply. Everyone who reads it is in your debt. It remains a mystery to me why you will send such a great email, but you won’t post it as a comment. But it’s better than nothing at all by a long shot!
“you never clearly state why you have made this conclusion”
Au contraire mon fraire! As stated … “clearly” … above: 10-18-4(B). Which YOU never mention in YOUR reply.
“Water conserving plants shall constitute at least eighty percent (80%), by area (including areas covered by turf)”
The only question is whether the grass that developers plant around here is on the town list of “water conserving plants”. You say that it’s “fescue and rye grasses”. I asked a number of plant specialists if they could identify the species of grass planted and I wasn’t able to find anyone who would commit. But if the lawns in front of the La Quinta and the Hampton are “water conserving species” … well … then the town code is where “half truths” can be found.
Developers are routinely required to demonstrate whether lights are “down directed” and colors are “on the color palette”. They could be required to say whether plants are “water conserving” too. But they’re not. I’m just asking for equal treatment.
I repeat, “The recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation [of the landscape ordinance].”
And, by the way, 10-18-6(F) only states that turf has to be a minimum of 10 feet wide. It doesn’t say anything about “addressing turf areas” as mentioned in your reply. (Half truth???) But it does repeat the requirement I stated, “Drought tolerant grass varieties shall be selected for turf and lawn areas.”
I’m with Barbara: “Will these same sod lawns look good when they are dry, brittle, and brown?”
“… you asked a general question regarding what would happen if the Planning Commission approved a hypothetical development in gross violation of the Town Code.”
Right. At the time, I had not received Barbara’s permission to divulge her emails. I receive a lot of private emails about my site … damn few comments, but a lot of emails … and I have made a commitment not to divulge private emails. (Your emails are an exception since we have already established that emails from town staff are automatically public.) So I didn’t feel free to discuss the particulars then.
THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH PRIVATE EMAILS AND WHAT IS RIGHT WITH A “PUBLIC AND ACCOUNTABLE” WEB FORUM! (A point you continue to miss.)
But your reply did not point out where I had made an error; only that I didn’t tell you why I was asking. And I didn’t say that you agreed with my conclusion on landscaping either. I only said you said what you said not what you said that I said that you said.
“… an internet discussion forum / blog can easily spread misinformation by presenting out-of-context and incomplete information as the accurate whole truth”
Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is such an opportunity to make this point again.
“Out-of-context and incomplete information” is found in private emails, hallway conversations, telephone calls … all those places where you can’t respond and you don’t even know what is being said. I posted my article publically with the goal of giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to correct it. Which you did. Which I thank you again for doing.
If Barbara and I had just complained to each other about this, THEN it would have been “out of context and incomplete”. But we didn’t. We complained in public so we would be accountable for what we wrote.
In my recent town council report, I groused about how everyone on the council seemed to know about the parking facility that is on the planning commission agenda today. I called you and asked if the agenda had been published. You said, “No.” (I didn’t tell you why I was asking then either. Bad on me … I guess … But then you might have been less inclined to write an email that I can publish and bring to the attention of the rest of the Zion Canyon Community!)
My point then, and now, is that the whole council seemed to have a whole bunch of inside knowledge that the rest of us did not have. Honestly, it’s hard to follow the conversations up on the raised platforms because there are so many “inside” references that they throw around.
If these discussions were posted in a “public and accountable” Internet forum, those conversations during the meeting would be a lot easier to understand.