A bobcat makes short work of the turf at the Whitmore Apartments in East Carbon.
East Carbon residents have a major change to look forward to as fall nears. A big red change. The water issues which have plagued Whitmore Square are being addressed with some finality as the property's manager has stripped the entire complex of grass in favor of crushed red gravel.
"High water bills have been a problem for every manager who has been over this property," explained Vic Staley, Executive Director for the Carbon County Housing Authority. "When I got a $5,000 water bill at the beginning of this summer, I knew I needed to make a decision."
Staley contends that he approached the city on several occasions to ask for some type of assistance and never got any type of real result.
"I went before the council, I also tried to work with the mayor but he was never around," he said. "We had the opportunity to install a permanent fix and with drought and other issues it just made sense. You know, we are non-profit so I'm not here to make money, but I am here to pay the bills."
The director had been in discussions with the city to have each unit in the complex metered independently. According to Staley, this would have isolated a leak had there been one and lowered the housing authorities total bill to approximately $1,000 given East Carbon's base rate. While this seemed like a solution for both entities, negotiations bogged down regarding the number of meters needed and who would pay for them. Facing a prohibitively large and recurring bill, which the city would not negotiate, Staley sought a change.
The director contracted with Castle Valley Landscaping to remove all of the facility's grass and replace it with small red rock.
"There will also be several larger rock accents," explained Staley. "It is our intention to create something which is pleasing to the eye and largely maintenance-free."
The Whitmore Square property sits directly to the west of East Carbon's Post Office and across the street the Eastern Utah Community Credit Union, as well as city hall. Because the structure makes up a large part of the small city's "downtown," debate over its appearance is ceaseless.
That discussion has changed very little over the years, as Staley's large bill is far from the first to come the housing authority's way.
"Linda Varner also approached the council on several occasions due to high bills and could never get anywhere, either," explained Staley.
Varner had cut watering at the complex in the past only to have the city rise up in anger over the dried out eye sore the property quickly becomes sans water. And while Staley sees the xeriscaping as a worry free solution, those living within the complex have their worries.
"Many residents are concerned about walking around so much rock," said Mary Howell, a longtime resident at Whitmore Square. "Also, what are they going to do about the millions of leaves that come off of our trees every fall? How are they going to get all those leaves off the rocks?"
Howell, who is one of the square's retired residents, pays more than $500 a month for her one bedroom apartment and feels that she deserves to use the city's water like all other residents.
"I know we have a leak on this property, I don't know where it is but I know these sprinkler pipes as well as our supply lines are between 25 to 30 years old," she said. "They have been arguing over huge water loses here for years and if there is a leak, why are the residents being punished?"
To Howell, community beautification is part of her daily life and something she has worked on tirelessly this year. She contends that Staley contacted her and one other facility resident earlier this year and told them they could water the ground with their own hoses as the sprinkling system would not be charged in 2012 due to high usage rates. The two residents watered daily and according to Howell, "got the place looking better than it had in years."
"I was very proud of what we were doing and I worked hard to get that grass green but I can't believe we were using as much water as the city is charging us for," she said. "Something is going on and nobody has every been able to give us a straight answer."
The lack of any real answer about where the water is disappearing to will have to be okay with residents as the xeriscaping project is now well underway.
"When I cut off the water, the gallons used at Whitmore was cut in half and I only had it off for two weeks out of the month," explained Staley. "I have contracted to have the leaves removed and we will maintain the sidewalks in a new manner. I know this is a big issue for the residents and I hope they like what we do. I know they love their lawns but if the bills continued their rent would have gone up and that isn't fair. This solves the problem."