Park City watches snow melt confident in summer water situation (w/video)
May 11, 2018
Editor's note: This article is one of four exploring the water situation in the Park City area following a winter with sparse snowfall. The others examine the snowpack, the impact of lower-than-average runoff on the fish population and the factors involved in City Hall drought declarations.
Clint McAffee and Jason Christensen are two of the people in Park City who monitor a winter's snowfall most closely.
They are not rising early to get first chair at a mountain resort. They are preparing, it seems, throughout the winter for the summer months and the warm, dry conditions that can mark the July-through-August period in the Wasatch Mountains. That is when Parkites water their lawns the most and when the threat of wildfires is typically at its most dangerous.
From their offices at the Public Works Building on Iron Horse Drive, McAffee and Christensen direct what has long been considered one of the state's most complex waterworks systems, one that must move water between elevation extremes and one that needs to ensure the drinking water meets quality standards. They can, effectively instantaneously, gather numbers about individual water sources, learn how much water the community is using and monitor data from waterworks facilities.
As the summer quickly approaches, McAffee, the public utilities director, and Christensen, the water resources manager, are preparing plans for the annual increase in water usage after a winter that delivered well below average snowfall. But the two anticipate the municipal water system will not be unduly stressed during the summer regardless of the snow totals. Nearly 70 percent of the water used during the summer is put toward sprinkling lawns or other sorts of irrigation, Park City estimates.
They say Park City officials over the years have greatly improved the system, including expanding the amount of water available, and Park City residents over time have cut the amount of water they use, a response to City Hall's aggressive conservation efforts. They also say the previous winter, the one of 2016-2017, delivered significant snow that continues to benefit the situation.
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"I'm nervous, but I'm confident we'll make it through this summer," Christensen said. "What makes me nervous is watching the snow disappear from the mountain. … The community's commitment to water conservation makes me confident."
The Public Utilities Department reports the water use by residences has dropped sharply in the past 18 years, falling by 40 percent during that time. Much of that fall is based on Parkites' acceptance of conservation programs coupled with redesigned pricing structures that make it more expensive the more water that is used, the officials say.
And, during that time, City Hall has aggressively expanded the waterworks capabilities through new water sources and additional treatment plants. Three of the municipal water sources — Thiriot Springs, the Judge Tunnel and the Spiro Tunnel — are especially dependent on winter weather, relying on the recharging effects of melting snow as it seeps into the ground. The Judge Tunnel, though, has not been tapped as a source in five years based on concerns about the quality of the water.
Other sources — the Rockport Reservoir, three wells throughout Park City and a water contract with the Jordanelle Special Service District — are not considered to be variable based on short-term weather cycles. McAffee described the system as a "very robust portfolio."
The water is delivered through a network of more than 130 miles of pipes traveling through 43 zones of pressure with 21 stations for pumping and another 50 stations designed to reduce the pressure, according to the Public Utilities Department.
In late April, the waterworks system had the ability to produce nearly 19 million gallons of water per day. The figure is projected to reach a high of 19.8 million gallons daily in July, one of the months when water use is traditionally at or near an annual peak. The peak day in 2017 was July 1, the jammed Saturday before Independence Day, when approximately 14 million gallons were used
"If we were nervous about a dry year, we would have failed" as water managers, McAffee said.