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Senior Center becomes an emerald isle, but questions arise about wisdom of watering

Workers lay the last few rolls of sod around the Senior Center last week. Some xeriscaping remains around the building.

Sun Advocate publisher

In the last few weeks Carbon County has installed a vast area of green sod around the Carbon County Senior Center near the fairgrounds. Before the lawn, since the center opened three years ago, a type of xeriscaping was in place, one that was supposed to have not required much water.

However, according to Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter, that landscaping wasn't working out for a number of reasons.

"There was a lot of complaints about how it looked," he told the Sun Advocate on Tuesday afternoon. "We had groups come out to book things at the fairgrounds area and they would see that. Some saw it and would say no."

However, rather than making a good first impression the only reason for the change, Potter went on to explain that it had more to do with costs; the costs of maintaining a xeriscape that did not work.

"Last year we spent about $20,000 hiring part time and SOS temporaries to keep the weeds down and make it look good," he said. "It really just looked like a weed patch."

However some citizens have complained about the fact that the county has put in lawn around the center in a year when water will be scarce. One resident even sent a letter to the commission expressing that if the county kept its lawn green he certainly would not let his lawn die either.

Potter said that he understands people's frustrations and concerns, but that the county needed to do something about not only the way the area looked but also what it would be costing tax payers.

"Up until last year we had been making some trade offs with the Price River Water Improvement District to provide water to the fairgrounds area," he stated. "We were using culinary water for everything. However those trade offs ended the year before last and we spent $100,000 on water last year."

He went on to explain that the county has now installed an entirely new irrigation system for the total complex that will utilizing irrigation water from the canal system with which the county has water shares.

However, Nadine Morris, a concerned citizen who was one of those that contacted the Sun Advocate about the situation, said that people need to change their thinking when it comes to water use in the desert like climate that the people of Carbon County live in.

"When are our major water users going to accept the fact that we are in a desert?" she asked. "Every year it gets worse and worse, with shorter and less productive winters."

Morris points out that xeriscaping works in other areas of the country, like in Arizona where they have been doing it for years. But she also pointed out that that while the county had installed the new grass that covers more than five acres of land, others in the county are just as guilty continuing to keep grass they do not use, but that they continue to water despite the lack of water availability.

"USU Eastern, where there is a need for parking, could remove some of that large expanse of grass in the front of the campus and plant beautiful trees and native plants in the medians," she said. "And Carbon School District, where large areas of basically unused grass at some schools like the Castle Valley Center, could plant those areas in native plants and shrubs in a desert landscape. Those areas could be used as a learning tool on ecology and conservation for students."

But Potter pointed out that the previously in place xeriscaping at the Senior Center wasn't without water or a water system.

"Water is water," said Potter. "The xeriscaping in place already had a drip irrigation system that went to the grasses and bushes, so it was using water too."

It's hard to find anyone who doesn't like a vast area of green lawn to walk across and play on. Yet the controversy about businesses and government agencies constructing buildings and then surrounding them with green grass goes on all around the country. In many cities in the southwest there are rules limiting lawn size and types. Even the San Francisco, Calif. area has had limits put on the amount of water that can be used for lawn watering in an area that is often considered one of the places that gets a lot of natural moisture from ocean storms that frequently traverse the area.

Potter pointed out that the county has built four bays behind the pump house at the fairgrounds that are designed to hold water until the sediment can be settled out before being used for landscaping irrigation. Water from this system is the low-cost alternative to the treated water the county has been using for years.

On top of that, if needed, the fishing pond at the fairgrounds could be used as a backup, but only if really needed.

"That project was built in conjunction with the Division of Wildlife Resources so we have to preserve the fishery there," he said. "But we keep it overfilled just in case."

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