Newly proposed rules targeting horse manure are stuck in the muck after residents in southwestern Salt Lake County shared fears that it would restrict their rural way of life and harm their property values.
The drafted changes, pitched by county officials Tuesday, aimed to reduce high levels of E. coli in Rose Creek — which intermittently flows into the Jordan River from the Oquirrh Mountains — and bring the county into compliance with Utah Division of Water Quality regulations.
To do so, officials asked the County Council to consider zoning changes near the stream that could restrict horse ownership on some lots, require owners to submit a manure management plan and incentivize planting native vegetation along the creek and its tributaries.
Despite facing a fast-approaching deadline to adopt new rules and submit an E. coli management plan to the state, the council voted unanimously this week to hit the brakes on the proposal and continue studying the issue. That decision came after council members heard about 30 minutes of united opposition during public comment.
About 20 residents — most of whom live in Hi-Country Estates, a rural development on unincorporated land southwest of Herriman — told the council the legislation threatened their ability to keep their horses and traditions alive.
“We’ve got four little kids … and we love that they come home from school, they go out and take care of the horses. They ride. They scoop manure, and it’s just a wonderful lifestyle for them,” resident Taylor Norquist said. “We just want to ensure that other people have that opportunity in this wonderful gem in the southwest corner of the valley.”
In 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency fined the county $280,000 for violating E. coli management standards. Now, county water officials fear they may face a similar fine if they do not submit a plan to the state next week to reduce contamination in the Jordan River watershed.
Rose Creek needs an 83% reduction in its E. coli load to meet water quality standards, according to the state Division of Water Quality.
Residents said the restrictions in the proposed ordinance would impose on their property rights and reduce the desirability of their neighborhood.
Many shared stories of buying homes in Hi-Country Estates because they were allowed to keep horses on their land. The proposed ordinance does not ban horses on land near the creek, but it does impose new limits on the allowable number of horses on some lots.
Other neighbors called attention to proposed rules that would require them to pony up for expensive surveys to determine how many horses they could keep on their land.
The measure also would create restrictions on building new structures near the creek.
“This will harm my value of my property and that will go towards my retirement. At some point here, I am going to sell,” said Tim Spivey, whose lot bumps up against the creek. “It’s a way of life that’s trying to be eradicated.”
Bob Thompson, the county’s watershed manager, told council members the proposed ordinance was relatively mild. The county, he said, was not pursuing stricter protections akin to land use rules in Little Cottonwood Canyon, where even dogs are prohibited.
“I would argue,” he said, “that we would want to start with the least protective ordinance that we could get away with to see if it works.”
After hearing presentations and public comment, the council tabled the proposal but committed to creating a working group to further examine how the county can comply with state rules and what impact the plan would have on residents.
“I feel a little under duress in passing [the ordinance] as is,” said council member Dave Alvord, who represents the area that would be affected by the changes. “We’ve heard feedback from residents. We have some unanswered questions.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s office, meanwhile, intends to write a letter to the Division of Water Quality asking for an extension on turning in an E. coli reduction plan.