ST. GEORGE, Utah — Members of the Utah State Legislature took a field trip to see how one of America's fastest growing cities is dealing with demands for water and grappling with growth.

Lawmakers visited Quail Creek Dam and the LaVerkin Hot Springs, operated by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. They discussed water re-use and desalination and how those could stretch supplies a little further.

"Down here we have such unique topography we have to have unique solutions," said Zach Renstrom, the water conservancy district's general manager.

Water issues in Washington County are not the same as water issues along the Wasatch Front. In some cases, they may be the polar opposite.

"Up there? They’re trying to keep water in the Great Salt Lake and so it’s a different dynamic," Renstrom told FOX 13 News.

Lawmakers were told about water re-use projects and efforts to take a hot spring that's naturally more salty, desalinate it and pump the water ultimately into the Colorado River. In northern Utah, efforts are under way to get more water into the Great Salt Lake because of the ecological threat a drying lake presents. The legislature this year prohibited future water re-use in the Great Salt Lake basin because it robs water from the lake.

Lawmakers acknowledged the different approaches and the need to treat southern Utah differently than northern Utah when it comes to water policy.

"We’re in a completely different ecosystem down here," said Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George. "We have one water source and if we don’t reuse it, it goes down the river and doesn’t benefit anyone until it gets to Vegas."

Political leaders in the St. George area are trying to also get the area to adapt to limited water supplies. The city has revised ordinances to push conservationwater-hogging grasses are being torn up and St. George's mayor has even said she will not allow future golf courses in the city.

"I'm very impressed with the forward thinking that the southern Utah area has in how to preserve and conserve our water," said Sen. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville.

On Wednesday, members of the legislature took a pair of chartered buses to visit Desert Color. It's a 3,400-acre, 11,000 door master planned community under construction. The project is a mix of various housing styles from single-family homes to condos and apartments, retail and commercial establishments and outdoor recreation amenities.

"A unique mix and blend of folks from all different walks of life and different levels," said Ryan Coates, Desert Color's business services manager. "Whether they’re single, whether they're newlyweds, or whether retired, there's a product for them at Desert Color."

What makes the community so unique is not only its size as one of the largest developments of its kind in Utah. but how it is handling water. Landscaping utilizes more desert-friendly plants and water is re-used (and no golf course is planned for it).

"All of the water that waters our in landscaping is re-used water," Coates told FOX 13 News. "Every home has two water meters. We built ponds to collect that re-use water."

Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he was impressed with how the development deals with resource scarcity but also the mix of housing options in a walkable community.

"I think a mix is great for quality of life. I'm very impressed with it. I think we need to do more of it," he said. "I think you’ll see this move not only down here but through the Wasatch Front and everywhere else."

Lawmakers were urged to consider southern Utah's unique needs as they craft policy. But Rep. Brooks said there are some similarities.

"No matter where you are in the state, we still live in a desert," he said.

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

Related Articles