Reservoir levels across Summit County are nearing depletion as Utah enters its third year of drought. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District will be
Reservoir levels across Summit County are nearing depletion as Utah enters its third year of drought. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District will be encouraging water conservation habits on the part of residents. (Park Record file photo)

With Summit County in a third year of drought, 2014 may appear similar to 2013 in terms of water supply. However, because water reserves have been drawn down during the past two years, reservoir levels are nearing depletion.

"We're looking at the likelihood of it being a less-than-stellar runoff this year," said Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. "Our intention is to get the word out now of it being a water shortage year without bringing out water restrictions."

Flint said currently, with snow pack levels at 76 percent of average, there is a nine percent chance of reaching average levels. Weber Basin will need another 45 days to determine whether water use restrictions will be necessary, he added.

"What we can say is that [restrictions] will not be affecting municipal water," Flint said. "It's projected that it will be on the irrigation side."

During a presentation to the Summit County Council on Wednesday, County Council member Dave Ure said soil moisture in the Weber and Provo river basins is at a 25-year low. Even if the county receives 100 percent of its average snowfall, it would only amount to a 40 to 45 percent runoff of water into reservoirs, according to a Weber Basin study.

"Being at 76 percent of normal [snow pack], we're looking at a 20 to 25 percent runoff to fill up our reservoirs, which is not a whole lot of water," Ure said. "This is all subject to change if the skies open up and it starts to rain."

The worst snowfall totals, Flint said, are in the Snyderville Basin, which he said does not bode well for East Canyon Reservoir. Rockport, Echo, Smith and Morehouse and Lost Creek reservoirs are all also looking at close to depleted levels.

With a bleak water supply outlook, both Ure and Flint said pressing water conservation habits on the part of residential and irrigation users is important.

"We will encourage [water conservation] much more on years like this and in all years going forward," Flint said. "We need to have an ethic change in how we put landscapes down and how we irrigate those landscapes."

At Wednesday's County Council meeting, County Council member Claudia McMullin suggested the county could create incentives for "xeriscaping," or using native and drought-resistant plants in landscaping.

Flint said Weber Basin would like to promote a "conservation-minded" approach to irrigating. He added that not much irrigation is required until May and that people should be conscious of turning their sprinklers off. Ure stressed that spreading awareness of the water supply problem now is crucial.

"We're just trying to make people aware of the circumstances they're in so that, come June 1st, they [are not surprised when] they find out they can't water their lawns," Ure said.

Ure is worried about ranchers not being able to provide water to their cattle during the drought and said that if conditions do not improve, ranchers will have to either haul water in or move their livestock.

"If the Weber River does not come up and flow so that the rights of the water come up to a certain level, there will not be water in the Kamas and Oakley area for farmers to water their cattle," Ure said.

Gov. Gary Herbert is coordinating staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with farmers and ranchers on water conservation efforts, Ure added.

Flint urged residents to be aware of upcoming announcements about the water supply from Weber Basin in the next 45 days.

"We'll know enough [about the water supply] then to say what's likely to happen," Flint said.

For more information about the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, visit weberbasin.com.