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Drastic water reductions may loom for northern Utah as drought continues



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite recent storm activity and another storm in the forecast this week, one of the state's largest water providers announced it is already looking at possibly enacting severe reductions for its users this summer.

The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which serves five counties in northern Utah with more than 50 municipal customers, said it may delay the recharge of its secondary/agricultural system by as much as a month — to mid-May.

The district's Drought Contingency Plan calls for a 60% reduction in waters available for outdoor irrigation of lawns and other landscaping, a 40% reduction for agricultural use, and a 10% reduction for culinary indoor use.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Utah Snow Survey, the Weber-Ogden basin snowpack sits at just 73% of average and is among the lowest basins in the state for the amount of precipitation it has received.

"We have a long ways to go," in terms of snowpack, said the district's general manager Scott Paxman.

The district warned that should conditions remain the same over the next few weeks it will enact the following restrictions in the the board of trustees' March 31 meeting:

  • No installation of new landscapes
  • One day a week watering of lawns and gardens
  • One day a week hand-watering of established trees and shrubs
  • No hosing down sidewalks or driveways
  • Early shutoff of secondary irrigation/agricultural system in mid-September

Paxman said the district could make adjustments if conditions change.

"If it started raining and snowing like nobody's business, it might change a little bit," he said. The district decided to make the announcement of possible reductions to those in the agricultural community in particular so can make appropriate plans when it comes to planting season, Paxman added.

"We wanted to give them a heads up."

Record heat and a runoff that was robbed by extremely dry soils last year led to an emergency declaration of drought in mid-March by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

In January, Gov. Cox presented an action plan for water conservation in the state.

Most of the state's reservoirs were less than half full, and Weber Basin was only able to carry over enough water going into the fall to meet culinary, or drinking water, needs. It was the worst set of circumstances the district said it had experienced in its 72-year history.

Pineview Reservoir, as an example, is 27% full, while Echo Reservoir is 37% full.

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The district is advising water users to repair leaks, to limit culinary use such as taking shorter showers, to refrain hosing off any hard surfaces and to keep turf mowed to 3 inches tall.

In this last legislative session, Utah became the first state in the nation to implement a statewide turf buy-back program by offering $5 million in incentives to people who want to pull out their turf and replace it with drought-resistant landscaping.

Weber Basin and a number of districts in Utah offer free classes and advice to residents seeking to make a reduction in the amount of turf on their property.

It is estimated that as much as 70% of municipal and industrial water goes toward outdoor landscaping.

The district did emphasize the recommendations they are considering are just that — a consideration — and subject to change should conditions improve.

The recommendations follow last week's announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that Lake Powell is expected to drop to an elevation of 3,525 feet this month due to an abnormally dry winter, but will gain extra water as the runoff begins.

The 3,525 is the "target" elevation that provides a buffer for Glen Canyon Dam's hydropower generation. An elevation of 3,490 feet is the lowest point at which the generation can occur.

"This year the Colorado River Basin has experienced extremely variable conditions with a record high snowpack one month, followed by weeks without snow," said Reclamation Acting Commissioner David Palumbo. "This variable hydrology and a warmer, drier West have drastically impacted our operations and we are faced with the urgent need to manage in the moment."

The drought prompted the additional release of water from Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs in 2021 and reductions of water to lower basin states.

There may be additional action that needs to be taken later this year and right now the agency is weighing its options.

"Reclamation is not planning to take further action to address this temporary dip below 3,525 feet because the spring runoff will resolve the deficit in the short term," said Reclamation Upper Colorado Basin regional director Wayne Pullan.

"However, our work is not done. Lake Powell is projected to drop below elevation 3,525 feet again later this year," he said. "Reclamation and the upper-division states continue to collaborate with stakeholders and partners to develop and implement additional actions later this year if appropriate."

The forecast calls for another storm to move into the area Tuesday into Wednesday.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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