The current snowy weather is being welcomed, but the Summit County Council heard Wednesday that it will take a few years to recover from the dry spell that has afflicted the Wasatch Mountains and Utah.
They heard a report from David Ure, the county’s representative on the board of the Weber Basin Water District. Ure said water cutbacks could be coming—but drinking water for homes and cities is not in jeopardy.
Ure, a Kamas rancher, formerly represented the county in the state legislature and was a member of the Summit County Council. Currently he is the head of the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
He told KPCW that the water problem started before the weak snowfall of last season.
“The droughts really been going for four or five years. 2017, at least on the Bear River side we had good water. We didn’t have that much water here so it’s spotty. The drought has really been going on for three or four or five years gradually. Last year it hit us pretty hard and there was not hardly any runoff.”
He stressed that he isn’t giving a Doomsday message. The Weber District isn’t cutting back on culinary water.
“We might have to cut off ranchers and things like that but that’s what we have to do. Mother nature just needs to open up and let us go. I found it interesting 10 days ago that just the Kamas valley itself it snowed for two days straight up there. We have a lot of snow up in Kamas that you don’t have over here. So, mother nature is kind of picky about what you want her to do and what you not want her to do. But we’ll survive, people will rise to the level to give service or help us get through some of these bad times. I don’t think the tourist industry is going to suffer off this because of what’s happened here the last couple of days and all the snowmaking that’s taken place.”
Still, he told the county council that it will take two to three years of above-normal snowfall to start to recover.
“We’re only about 50% of normal in Echo reservoir. Weber Basin does not own any water in Echo Reservoir today. You’ll see that there’s very little water in there in the first place. But as far as our ownership as Weber Basin we do not own any water in today until we have replacement of the snowfall.” Ure explained who did own that water, “Irrigation companies, a little bit of municipalities and probably the biggest owner is Utah Power and Light to pull water over onto the Provo side that will go through their power plant.”
He reported on some of the other storage areas within the Weber District.
“We have another years’ worth of storage in the Willard Bay, but the water in the Willard Bay is very expensive because we have to pump it from there to the top of the hills and have gravity flow back down again. I’m assuming that Echo and the Wanship and all the reservoirs up in the Huntsville area will have enough snowfall to probably bring us back to around 65% of normal which will get us through June/July.”
Ure mentioned another troubling water measurement.
“Our soil moisture is only about 53%. What I mean by that, until you get that soil moisture up to around 90%, you’re not going to have any runoff. Because the runoff comes after the soil is filled full of water then it comes into us. Right now as of our last board meeting that’s what our soil moisture was in the Weber Basin area.”
He said the Weber District is trying to educate or incentivize users to conserve water.
“We in the Weber Basin have drafted up a drought contingency plan of which we are implementing right now and doing advertising. We’re doing a lot of educating about how people can get by with less water. 45 to 50% of all of our contracts, Weber Basin’s supplier of wholesale water to private homes, 45% of those people are on meters now that we’ve put in place over the last five or six years.”
Ure said that water restrictions might apply to rights going back to the late 1800’s and they’ve put the word out to agricultural interests.
“We’re even going to send out a letter to the irrigators to the ranchers and farmers. Tell them, look until it really starts to snow, you may not have enough water for your corn, come the middle of September. I think that people rise to the level of the education of which they have and the circumstances of which mother nature’s providing for us. I think that your people in Summit County would rise to that same level. Las Vegas, they gave everybody $1.50 or three bucks, I can’t remember what it was, to tear out their lawn and go to zero scape. Maybe that’s something to think about here.”