Amy Roberts: Exceptional drought requires exceptional action
Sundance may have gone virtual this year, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature about the change. Just like every single festival I can recall for the last several years, we enjoyed a decent snowstorm on what would have been/should have been opening weekend. In another nod to nostalgia, the crowds still came and formed seemingly impossible lines that wound into a nonsensical web. This year, though, the masses of humans weren’t on Main Street — they were at the resorts.
“I’ve never seen Deer Valley this busy” was a common refrain among the group I skied with over the weekend. While there were likely several contributing factors — the first true storm of the season, extra space between bodies due to socially distanced queues and chairlifts, and a general sense that without the big dance in town, traffic would be manageable — if it weren’t for the lack of lanyards and people dressed in black, it would have been easy to assume an in-person Sundance was still happening. The snow was this year’s coveted premiere ticket. Supplies were limited and people came from all over in hopes of getting into the event.
The alarming lack of snowfall is both depressing and troubling right now, but it’s about to get dangerous. Wildfire season is just a few months away, and the well is running dry. In the state of Utah, roughly 95% of our water supply comes from snowpack. Reports that water levels at the Thaynes Canyon weather station are at half of the historical average and current soil moisture is the driest on record should demand some immediate and consequential action. It’s time for all of us — locals, visitors, businesses, and city and county leaders — to make water a top priority. I’m not talking about more feel-good policies like the unenforced idle free suggestion. We need to, well, blow it out of the water with bold ideas that bring meaningful results.
Water is complicated. It’s regulated by a complex and intricate set of federal, state and local laws. But a relatively simple place to start is with any new building permit. Why not make it a requirement to install high-efficient WaterSense products in all new construction or remodel projects and require any new development to be xeriscaped? Just as there have been bulk-purchase solar discount programs on a countywide level, why not do the same for water-saving products? While we are at it, let’s consider offering generous rebates for replacing inefficient plumbing fixtures and fittings. After all, roughly 21 trillion gallons of water are lost each year in the U.S. due to leaky pipes. We could also use some community outreach and education about how to harvest rainwater and which barrels are best for our climate, as well as initiatives to recycle greywater, and passing legislation that allows the use of waterless composting toilets. With every flush, we lose about two gallons of water; when you multiply that by the number of homes, hotels and businesses in town, and well, you can see how our water supply is circling the drain.
Summit County is in an exceptional drought. It’s time to take exceptional measures to correct course. Otherwise, both our lives and livelihoods are bound to be dead in the water.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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Tom Kelly spent a day at Woodward Park City with snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones. He didn’t hit any rail boxes — this time — but left wanting to change that by the time the season ends.