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SALT LAKE CITY — Rainfall on the Wasatch Front is 60 percent above normal for the month of May. But hydrologists say our overall water supply has not really increased that much, and conservation is still critical this spring and summer.
"A cool, wet spring is really good to enhance your run-off," said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "But, if you don't have much run-off to start with, what you get is the rain falling on the land around here."
The benefit of all of this rain is green lawns and beautiful flowers without turning on the sprinklers. Unfortunately, McInerney said, the rainfall does not make up for the loss of snowmelt run-off that Utah should be collecting right now.
Some Utahns like to store their own water whenever it rains: rain harvesting.
"These help us save water, almost like a small-scale reservoir," said Nick Schou, the conservation director with Utah Rivers Council who started collecting rain in barrels six years ago.
"These barrels are a small step," he said, "but an important tool to help us conserve water."
Legally, you can collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater in Utah at any given time. Schou places the barrels below the drainpipe on his garage and regularly has water, even several weeks into a dry period.
"People would be really surprised how fast you can fill a 50-gallon rain barrel in a rainstorm," he said.
He uses a hose attached to the barrel to water brown spots, and a watering can for his gardens.
Collecting rainwater is not the silver bullet that will solve all of our water problems. But it is a crucial tool.
–Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service
"These rain barrels can help connect people to their water use and understand how their water use is connected to Utah's future," Schou said.
He considers the barrels one more tool to help delay costly water projects like pipelines and dams.
One thousand people in Salt Lake County and Murray recently bought 50-gallon barrels at a subsidized rate through a Utah Rivers Council sale. That's 50,000 gallons of rainwater Utahns are using instead of stored water.
"The trick is to encourage people to waste less," said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. "That's what conservation is. It's the cornerstone of being a fiscal conservative."
With major reservoirs at 50 percent of normal capacity, McInerney says we all need to conserve.
"In the big, overall water supply picture, we're still very low," he said.
Three to four inches of rain this month is great. But, McInerney points out, it should rain in May, with a monthly average of nearly two inches. Plus, the Wasatch Front should be getting more than an inch of snowmelt each day over two months, and we're not.
"It doesn't even compare," said McInerney.
That's one big reason Schou plans to keep harvesting rain.
"Collecting rainwater is not the silver bullet that will solve all of our water problems," he said. "But it is a crucial tool."