Water supply outlook for 2014 is bleak
January 24, 2014
Utah finds itself in the midst of a three-year drought, and the situation may only worsen with minimal snowfall so far this winter, coupled with dwindling reservoir levels.
"It’s a wait, watch and listen situation we’re in right now," County Council member Dave Ure said. "If the heavens don’t open up, it’s going to be dire stress for us."
Findings from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s recent 2014 Utah water supply outlook report validated Ure’s concern, showing water supplies in Northern Utah taking a noticeable hit.
Randall Julander, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS, said the report was used with data gathered from all over Utah such as snow pack, precipitation, temperature, salt and moisture data, observed stream flow and reservoir storage levels.
"[Water supplies] in the north declined five to 10 percent, and in the south, they declined even more than that," Julander said. "Snow packs will be down in the 65 percent of average range. What makes it particularly disturbing is that we have another week in which we don’t expect to get any substantial precipitation."
Scott Paxman, Assistant General Manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said that currently snow pack is at 76 percent of the average. Roughly 1.5 percent of that is lost every day there is no snowfall, he added.
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With reservoir levels at 30 to 35 percent, Paxman said Weber Basin had a 20 percent reduction in irrigation contracts last year and is expecting potentially close to a 50 percent reduction this year. The District could end up taking more enforcement measures if water supplies take a big hit this summer.
"There will be restrictions on wholesale contracts and we could be implementing some additional conservation measures for retail customers on secondary irrigation [water]," Paxman said, adding he does not think substantial reductions in municipal and industrial contracts will be necessary.
Summit County Council member and Kamas dairy farmer Dave Ure said one of the biggest issues is that soil moisture is at a 30-year low statewide. This will have a notable impact on farmers and ranchers in the county.
"We’re anticipating only about three-quarters of a crop of hay unless things change rapidly in the Kamas area," Ure said. "Our ranges will probably have cattle go on them late and leave early."
Ure, who also sits on the boards of two irrigation companies, said that unless there is a substantial amount of spring rain, there will not be much flow from the Provo or Weber Rivers for irrigation.
The reservoirs, Ure added, have had water levels sufficient for two years of storage. But those reserves have been used, leaving no backup water supply. He said the county would have to get at least 135 percent of its average snowfall to even fill reservoir levels back up to where they were, given the forecast for this year.
The lower snow pack also affects the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District in that they have to treat reclaimed wastewater to a higher level because of lower stream flows. General Manager Mike Luers said that, coupled with increased demand, decreased stream flows result in higher costs for them.
Andy Armstrong, General Manager for the Mountain Regional Water Special Service District, said they have enough water to meet their customers’ needs but is prepared if the drought affects their surplus water supply.
"In previous years, when we’ve had sustained droughts, we’ve asked our customer base to cut back [on water use] frequently. That helps quite a bit," Armstrong said.
Julander warned that, in the Weber Basin, there may be many individuals who may not receive a full allocation of water rights. This would be difficult on farmers and ranchers, he said. Expanding water conservation will also be important.
"In the short term, we’ll have to ask everybody to use water as wisely as they can," Julander said. "We live in a state of perennial drought that’s the average condition we find ourselves in. It’s becoming harder to deal with because of the number of people and the demand for water."
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