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Local Reservoirs Have Only Received 3% of Regular Snowmelt, Say Officials

With Utah experiencing record-setting drought conditions before the summer even starts, water restrictions have been put in place across the state in order to compensate.


With over 90% of Utah experiencing what is considered ‘extreme drought,’ Utah Governor Spencer Cox declared a drought state of emergency in May and announced this week that state entities would reduce their watering to twice a week.


Lt. Governor Diedre Henderson said at a Thursday press briefing that the real problem this summer is the low snowfall seen last winter. Because of the thin snowpack, Utah’s reservoirs are now at record low levels. 


“Thank goodness we have reservoirs,” said Henderson. “Without them we would be in a much worse situation this year, but we didn’t receive enough snowfall over the winter to fill our reservoirs.”


Darren Hess is the Assistant General Manager and COO of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and told KPCW the district was only able to capture and store about 3% of the usual runoff this year.


“Well, this year, we just didn’t have any runoff to speak of,” Hess said. “In a typical year, Weber Basin would store 220,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water is basically a football field a foot deep. We would normally store 220,000, this year, we stored about 7,000. It’s an historic year, one that we really haven’t seen, probably for about 75 years on the main stem of the Weber [river]. It is that bad this year.” 


The district manages seven reservoirs in the state, including Summit County’s Rockport and Smith and Morehouse Reservoirs, and is a wholesale water provider to the county.


Hess said in order to help preserve the district's water reserves as the summer approaches, several regulations of their own are now in place starting this week. 


He added that the biggest offender during a drought is the water used for landscaping. The district is now asking for at least a 20% decrease in outdoor water use and is restricting watering to two times a week. If you don’t comply, you run the risk of your service getting shut off. 


“We’re asking folks not to water between 10am and 6pm, during the hottest hours of the day and, obviously, no more than twice per week, but as we see infractions to those rules that we’ve instituted, we will be giving educational warnings, door hangers, two of those, an orange hangar and then a red hangar,” said Hess. “If we’ve educated you, talked with you twice and we still have issues or problems or infractions, then we will be forced to shut the system off. We don’t want to get to that point, we want to educate and help people understand the seriousness of the drought this year.”


Hess said the typical watering cycle uses over 3,000 gallons of water, which is about half of a household’s indoor water use for an entire month. He said reducing watering to twice a week could save 12-16,000 gallons of water a month per household.


More information on how to save water can be found here.


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.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.