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Utah's Worst Drought in Decades Prompts 'Survive, Not Thrive' Irrigation Regimes

Irrigation water will continue to run in Midway until it runs out or freezing weather hits, according to the Midway Irrigation Company director.

In the midst of Utah’s worst drought in 30 years, the water master of the Midway Irrigation company expects water to farmers and ranchers will substantially decrease this summer and the state Division of Natural Resources is recommending that Summit County residents limit their watering to just twice a week. 


Both of them expect your grass to be brown by the end of the summer.


Marcy McCartney is the Manager of Water Conservation and Public Information for the Division of Natural Resources. 


The drought situation, she says, doesn’t look good.


“Drought conditions they're the worst I've ever seen, and so many others that are in the field, in their entire careers,” McCartney said. “So, we're really concerned that we need to do more. This extreme drought is going to call for extreme conservation.”


Utah is in what she calls “survive, don’t thrive” mode and lawns will likely go into dormancy until conditions improve. 


Every week, she posts the weekly lawn watering guide. This week Summit County is the only county in the state that has dropped from watering three times a week to just twice a week.


McCartney said this is because soil stays moist for longer in Summit County, owing to its higher elevation and cooler average temperatures.


“Summit County was quite a bit cooler than the rest of the counties,” McCartney said. “That's why we made the recommendation of twice a week versus the three times a week”


Even cutting back one day or water a week, she says, will make a big difference.


“By reducing just even one watering saves on average, for the average lot size of about a quarter acres, saves 3,000 gallons,” McCartney said. “If everybody was to reduce that one watering, as you can imagine, it saves a lot of water. And that means that we keep our reservoirs fuller longer. We are sure that we have water supply.”


Heber Valley resident and 54th District State Rep. Mike Kohler operates the Midway Irrigation Company. The steep slope of the pipe system causes people further down to receive less water.


“We experienced over the weekend, in fact the last four of five days, a drastic drop in flows from our canyons and other sources, and just having a hard time keeping the system full,” he said. “When it gets tight, the people at the top lose it, and the bottoms don't notice it for a while, even though pressure may drop. So that's what we're experiencing.”


He says he’s meeting with his board of directors this week and expects they will recommend coordinating with Midway city to institute water restrictions.


Kohler says usage for those who water their fields and lawns with irrigation water will all be curtailed shortly. 


Still, he’s surprised it’s happening so early.


“I've already spoken to both golf courses and they're in the process of cutting back,” he said. “Wasatch Mountain had already done that realizing some of their sources are different than mine and they were having trouble with their own, so they've already cut back in the golf courses, common areas, one of the bigger problems. I think we're going to have is, common areas in a lot of our big development communities’ HOAs, have some really elaborate systems and landscaping in their common areas and we're going to get down. We're starting this in the middle of June, by the time we get to August, it's going to be subsistence – just barely keeping things alive; not looking pretty unless something changes in the amount of precipitation we're getting.”


Action needs to be taken now to ensure there is enough water in the system by the end of summer.


“I started this probably 30 years ago when I was already doing this and we had ample water then, even for farmers and even in dry years, we could make it work,” Kohler said. “The problem is we've had these droughts so long and then this. If we'd have had to get snowfall or a full Jordanelle, or I mean there's several factors … the key one is the snowfall. We've had zero runoff and even our sources from springs are showing stress already from the lack of snow this winter.”


A meeting on Midway irrigation water will be held on Monday, June 14 at 7 p.m. at Midway Town Hall in person and via Zoom.


For more water conservation tips, visit slowtheflow.org.

Tough but fair, Leslie is the woman most of Park City wakes up with every weekday morning. Leslie has been at KPCW since 1990 and her years at KPCW have given her depth and insight, guiding her as she asks local leaders and citizens the questions on everyone’s minds during the live interviews of the Local News Hour.
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