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John Daley ReportingPeople along the Wasatch Front may face more stringent water restrictions this summer because of the meager runoff and low reservoir levels.
The people who manage our water are already urging conservation, and using less water on our lawns. Even though we had a couple of big storms last winter, the unseasonably warm March weather is eroding mountain snowpack.
Think of mountain snowpack like a water bank account – the more of it that ends up in reservoirs, the better. But our water savings for the winter of 2004, once looking solid, are melting away.
Consider these numbers. Two weeks ago snowpack in the Provo River, Utah Lake, and Jordan River drainage was 104% of normal. After two record warm weeks, that figure is now 78%--and dropping.
The big concern is Utah Lake, a key element in Salt Lake Valley's water system. It's nearing low levels last seen in 1992. That year the city could no longer pump water from Utah Lake. It had to release drinking water into irrigation ditches to meet old water exchange obligations.
LeRoy Hooton, Director, Salt Lake Dept. of Public Utilities: "At that time we asked our customers to cut back on their municipal use to meet those exchange agreements."
Last summer, thanks to water wise-conservation, Salt Lakers used 17% less water than the previous year. Without the same this year, by summer's end the city could be forced to upgrade its drought status to severe, which could include a limit on the number of days one can water.
Meantime, many water suppliers are changing water rates to encourage saving. Some are considering restrictions or even fines for those violating water rules. And virtually every water agency is calling for conservation.
Jordan Valley built a demonstration garden with half a dozen landscape options, each uses at least half the water of a grass lawn.
David Ovard, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District: "If Utah is the second driest state in the nation, shouldn't we have at least the second best conservation programs in the nation? I think we should and we're no where near that now."
Everyone is watching the weather closely to see if things get any cooler or wetter over the next few weeks. But one thing is clear--drought conditions are not over--we're now heading into year six.