Virgin considers halting development for up to 6 months – St George News

Old post office at Virgin, unspecified date Virgin, Utah | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Virgin Town Council is wrestling with water issues and whether to adopt a temporary zoning ordinance to pause development for up to six months.

Residents and developers voiced opinions for and against halting development during the council’s special meeting last Thursday. Included in these comments, which came from the city attorney and two council members, covered discussions they had with Zachary Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

The council will decide on the moratorium on Tuesday, Jan. 17, and directed its attorney Heath Snow to begin negotiations with the water conservancy district and determine exactly how many water connections the town has. The attorney will also ask if Virgin can exchange its water connections to waive the fees the district charges to join its water pooling agreement.

“We have an oral resolution to our town attorney to go to the water conservancy district and begin some negotiations,” Mayor Jean Krause told St. George News. “The main thing we need to know from the water conservancy district is how many connections we have and the minimum number of connections they would consider from us to let us into the current water pooling agreement.”

Krause said the proposed ordinance is returning to the drawing board for some adjustments. She said Virgin is in “urgent need” of estimates of the impact that previously approved developments will have on its water supply and systems and its septic saturation.

A snowstorm turns the desert into a winter wonderland, Virgin, Utah, Dec. 13, 2022 | Photo courtesy Cheryl Sampson, St. George News

The town has snowballed over the past several years. According to the draft ordinance, approved water connections may be approaching or have passed limits to its water resources. Also, the town is affected by the statewide “catastrophic drought, making provision of drinking water to new development problematic.”

Virgin’s culinary water supply currently has a limited agreement with the Washington County Water Conservancy District. Some town council members hope to enter into a new deal and join the district’s pooling agreement before it is closed off to membership.

“A potential solution to the problem is basically turning in the remaining water connections that we had in return for no penalty, and then we would be in the water pooling agreement,” Krause said.

During the special council meeting, resident Wanda Leverett cautioned that if a temporary halt is not implemented, Virgin risks paying the fee for joining the pooling agreement.

“If you fritter away these water connections while you try to work out an agreement with the water conservancy district, you’ve lost your bargaining chip,” Leverett said.

But some members of the crowd at the meeting spoke against halting building permits for up to six months. Jared Westhoff, Zion Weeping Buffalo co-owner, said it would hurt his business if the ordnance passes.

Washington County is one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. According to the Utah Division of Natural Resources website, projections estimate the county’s population will increase up to 200% by 2060.

In addition to residents, Washington County attracts more than 6 million annual visitors and thousands of seasonal residents. These factors add significantly to Washington County’s water demand.
The county’s population depends exclusively on the Virgin River for water.

“The county currently uses more than 90% of its annual reliable water supply. Additional conservation measures and development of local water alternatives are essential to protect the county’s existing and projected economy and population,” the website states.

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