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What Does The Drought State of Emergency Mean For Water Supply in The Wasatch Back?

Utah DNR - State Parks

 A dry summer and a winter with only 70% of its usual snowpack, left 100% of Utah in the moderate drought category and 90% in the extreme category - causing the governor to act on his executive powers.  

The drought state of emergency does suggest that Utanhs use water-wisely. And opens the doors for communities or agricultural producers to access state or federal emergency resources. 

Cities have their own water portfolios - sourcing their supplies from places like wells, surface water or conservancy districts. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District delivers water to eight counties in the state including some of Summit County and all of Wasatch County. 

Tom Bruton is an assistant general manager at Central Utah Water. He said a year ago, the district felt very good about snowpack conditions in their jurisdiction.  

"So this good snowpack that we had, we had a decent run off," Bruton said. "But then we had no additional precept into the fall and so all those waters you know, they went into the reservoir they were used and our soil conditions so started to dry because there was no more precipitation in any forum all summer last summer." 

He said without any rain, the soil conditions were very poor at the start of fall 2020, so they were holding out hope for a great snowpack season.


"Our snowpack really didn't pan out," he said. "So we have poor soil conditions, we have a weak snowpack. And as that snowpack now melts, the soils always take their share. The soils always fill their portion of the water content before it turns into runoff. So as the snowpack starts to melt, the soil profile will have to fill up its amount of water, then at some point, it will start to flow into the rivers that can take a significant amount of this year’s snowpack."

During March the Jordanelle Reservoir was sitting at 67% of its average fill; the district is hoping it reaches 80% during April.

Even with a decent amount of snow in March, Bruton says they’re expecting to have less than their average runoff amount. 

"We have needs for the water in all of its implications for municipal industrial, for agriculture, for environmental purposes, particularly, you know, stream flows for recreation purposes," he said. "So we need to have a conservation ethic, always in this state. And there needs to be some good discussions about ways we can conserve. Our operations don't change in a sense, we're going to collect every drop of water we can, and we're going to encourage wise water use in every way we can."

Even in the driest years, the district has been able to supply 100% of their contract amounts. This year is no exception. But in the future they might need to reevaluate.

As climate change studies predict more droughts in the future, Bruton said Central Utah Water has modeling operations to prepare for any scenario. 

"We could sit here and say, 'Okay, let's pretend we're gonna have five straight years, just like 2021,'" he said. "And, again, we're confident in the short term, what we can do, what we're looking at the long term always in mind, you know, what, what's things going to be like in 10 years?  Now, we can't force the city to do things. But we can make recommendations. And we have a water conservation plan, recognizing all these things."

He says as the area continues to grow, Cental Utah Water will continue to make careful decisions and look for new ways to conserve. 

KPCW News reports on climate change issues are brought to you by the Park City Climate Fund at the Park City Community Foundation, an initiative that engages Park City in implementing local high impact climate solutions that have potential to be effective in similar communities.


Jessica joins KPCW as a general assignment reporter and Sunday Weekend Edition host. A Florida native, she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in English — concentrating in film studies — and journalism. Before moving to Utah, she spent time in Atlanta, GA.
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