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Water Works Venture

Preserving a precious resource

Article by Marianne Hamilton

Photography by Courtesy of Washington County Water Conservancy District

Originally published in St George City Lifestyle

It’s no secret St. George has become one of the country’s most desirable destinations, with many visitors frequently deciding to become residents. Given explosive growth that shows no sign of abating—and in normal years, our minimal rainfall—water conservation measures are critical. Fortunately, the Washington County Water Conservancy District, or WCWCD, works tirelessly to preserve this precious resource. St. George City Lifestyle recently caught up with WCWCD General Manager, Zach Renstrom, to talk about his agency’s plans, which are always—well, fluid.

SGCL: What is WCWCD’s charter?
Basically, we focus on the water we have, and we develop additional water resources for the future. We provide about 60% to 65% of the drinking water in Washington County today; that percentage will continue increasing as the community grows.

SGCL:  How do you keep up with the type of growth we’ve seen in the past 10 years?
We spend an extensive amount of time planning for the anticipated growth our cities have developed in their master plans. The plans give us insight into how the community is going to grow and the amount of water they’re going to need. Then we analyze our water resources and estimate available supply based on conservation, reuse and new supply development. We plan 50 years in advance to help ensure we stay ahead of demand.

SGCL: We live in the desert, so where does the water come from?
All our water comes from the Virgin River drainage basin. It’s a very small drainage basin, and one year—like this year—we’ll have excess water, and the next we’ll be in drought. To accommodate that extreme variability, we build big water storage facilities, like the Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs.

SGCL: Is there a date when our water supplies might actually run out?
Right now, we’re actively developing a 20-year plan that assumes a high growth rate. We have water for homes being built today. But the real question is, how do we deal with long-term growth? We have projects on the table that will help ensure we have water for new homes built over the next five years. But we really want to get to that 20-year plan; that’s what we’re working on.

SGCL: What are some ways you encourage water conservation?
In December, we launched our most popular initiative, the Water Efficient Landscape rebate program. We’ll pay property owners up to $2 per square foot to replace their lawns with desert-friendly landscaping. The program does have a vegetative coverage requirement because we want to avoid excessive heat in our desert climate while maintaining the community’s aesthetics. We’re fortunate to have a wide variety of native and drought-tolerant trees that do well in our community.

SGCL: What has the response been to that program?
The response has been phenomenal—we have received more than 1,000 applications in a few months. Almost 150,000 square feet of grass has already been replaced with water-efficient landscaping in our community. Rebates are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. We anticipate offering this program for years to come. The program is funded by the district and state.

SGCL: What are you hearing from those enrolled in the program?
Mostly, they tell us that it offers a big lifestyle change. They don’t have to spend time mowing their lawns, so they have more free time. And by the way, it’s important for people to understand: No one’s saying you have to remove your existing lawn. This is a 100 percent voluntary program. But when people do a landscape conversion, it helps extend our water supply and use it more efficiently. So that’s why we’re hoping residents will want to participate.

SGCL: What about swimming pools?
If swimming pools are covered, they’re actually fairly water efficient. Uncovered pools use about the same amount of water as grass. We don’t have any current mandates, but we encourage people to be water-wise and put on pool coverings. The best ones are the automatic models; the other covers tend to blow off in our summer winds.

SGCL: Any other water conservation tips for our readers?
The easiest thing for people to do, while having the biggest effect, is to have a water-efficient landscape and only irrigate as needed. Similar to other desert communities, approximately half of our water is used for outdoor irrigation. Don’t set the irrigation clock and forget it. Change it seasonally as needed. Every gallon of water saved adds to our storage for future use.

For more information about the Washington County Water Conservancy District, and ways you can save water, visit

"Almost 150,000 square feet of grass has already been replaced with water-efficient landscaping in our community...We anticipate offering this program for years to come." – Zach Renstrom, Washington County Water Conservancy District General Manager

  • Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District