Editorial: Dry winter brings summer of responsibility to conserve water, lessen wildfire danger
It was obvious to anyone who even glanced at the mountains over the winter that the snowpack in Summit County was suffering.
But just how dire the water situation would be heading into the summer months was unclear. As spring unfolds, we’re gaining a better understanding of where things stand. It turns out that the Park City area is in better shape than one might have predicted from looking at the bare patches of mountain throughout the winter.
Despite spring runoff volume being well below average, water experts say reservoirs in the area are nearly full. That’s a direct result of the previous winter, which was one of the most bountiful in recent memory and gave us enough cushion to overcome a winter with poor snowpack.
Beyond the reserves built up in the 2016-2017 winter, we’re also fortunate that our local governments have put in place water management plans that will help us get by. Park City’s water officials, for instance, expect that the city’s water system will be able to handle increased usage over the summer without too much trouble, regardless of the subpar runoff.
Still, a poor winter is an important reminder that water is a finite resource and it needs to be used responsibly. That starts with taking common-sense measures to conserve water, such as recognizing that lawns don’t need to be watered more than once or twice a week — or perhaps not at all when there’s enough rainfall. We may be able to get by this summer, but what happens if precipitation is below average next winter, too?
As well as questions regarding the water supply, the other factor tied to the winter’s low snowfall is the potential for increased fire danger. Officials have been clear that the threat of a catastrophic wildfire is present in Summit County, and dry vegetation would add to the risk.
At a recent community panel on the topic of wildfires, Chris Crowley, Summit County’s emergency manager, said local agencies work together to ensure they can respond with the necessary resources to combat a wildfire. But Crowley also stressed the importance of homeowners protecting their homes by creating what is known as a defensible space. Removing dead vegetation and other highly flammable material from the perimeter of a home and trimming tree branches that extend over the roof are two important, and relatively easy, steps.
Residents this summer will also be charged with taking extra precautions to not accidentally start a wildfire. We will need to be especially careful with fireworks in July (if they’re allowed this year), dispose of lit matches or cigarettes safely and build campfires only in approved areas.
By this time next year, hopefully the situation will be different. It would be nice if a strong winter buoys the water supply and reduces the fire hazard. But until then, Parkites are on notice: Conserving water and being cognizant of the fire danger will be top priorities throughout the summer.
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Our view: Pushing to protect watersheds in the Uinta Mountains would cost Summit County time and resources. But it can’t afford to do nothing.