After a meeting with several county council members, county attorney, Jann Farris, and the State Division of Drinking Water a suggestion for a building moratorium in the Highlands water district was brought before the county council on Tuesday night. It was an unexpected turn of events for the council members in attendance.
According to the State of Utah Division of Drinking Water there were many concerns with new development plans set up in the Highlands area, stating the area was already at “104% capacity.” Adding more dwelling units would bring more pressure to the water supplies which have struggled through the summer. Planning Director, Lance Evans set the stage for why the surprise of a possible moratorium was being presented, saying, “The planning department has been working on a lot of plans, different sizes, rezones, and subdivisions. As we go through this we look at water requirements. Discussing that, we wanted to understand what was going on. We set up a meeting with Weber Morgan Health Department. The state heard what we were talking about and our developments. The state said it was very concerned with so many dwelling units coming into the area.”
Evans didn’t know if the state had ever contacted Highlands Water Company with their concerns. Maria Owens is the Director of DDW (Division of Drinking Water). Reports from the meeting by those in attendance expressed that Owens had concerns for the water needs of the current residents in the area, let alone any new developments. The DDW determined the water supply was in a state of “a current source deficiency,” with the recommendation of no more connections to the water system be allowed. This was when the idea of a 6-month building moratorium was first brought up amongst county council members.
Evans explained there are a few permits already approved. “There are 2 under construction now, and 3 permits on my desk, I think we could deal with five new homes, but we don’t want to take anymore.”
Council member, Tina Canon, who was present during the meeting with the DDW said, “Answers we received from the state was that this is a long term problem. It isn’t something we solve easily. The state’s recommendations will come from their final report.”
The final public report that would be delivered to the County Council could take two or more months to develop and deliver. It is the time between now and then that had the council concerned if more building permits should be accepted, reviewed and possibly approved.
“I take what we’re doing here very serious, when we step in on a company’s ability to conduct business. I also understand our role for the health and safety of the people of Morgan County. What we do here can seriously set a precedent for other companies down the road. In this location in Mountain green I cannot count the amount of phone calls, emails, public comment with concerns about water. And water isn’t the only issue. We have bad soil all over the county, not just in the Highlands. I believe we should make sure water is flowing before we give building permits,” said Council Member, Robert Kilmer.
The soil topic was discussed at length. Bringing up the need for more in-depth building site inspections for sensitive lands to avoid landslides like those in 2005. Sensitive land overlays can be used to protect residents. Geotechnical inspection is encouraged to be concluded before building. Many public comments urged the county council to require the developers to follow certain geotechnical guidelines. Some felt an entire team should be involved including architects, civil engineers, and geotechnical specialists.
But the focused problem was water. If the situation with water flow is rectified before the six month limit on the proposed moratorium, the building moratorium could be lifted. “The moratorium is designed to protect the county and the current residents,” Council Member, John Barber said, “If this goes through I hope it’s lifted soon.”
At the end of the discussion the vote passed to instate a 6-month moratorium in the Highlands Water District, which can be lifted at any time before the six month time frame. The only hook ups that can go forward before the moratorium is lifted are the five lots in process. The Highlands water company hasn’t issued a will serve letter for new construction, and expressed their continued efforts to rectify the shortage. The Highlands Water company is meeting with the DDW soon to discuss actions to rectify the situation.