Water experts predict Utah reservoirs will fill to capacity as the remaining snow melts into the state's waterways in coming weeks. In other words, we're experiencing an average water year.
In the second most arid state in the nation, this is welcome news. But it does not suggest that Utahns can slack off their water conservation ethic. Conservation remains the wisest course because it helps the state better cope with below-average water years and it prepares Utahns for future needs as the population grows.
Since 2000, Utahns have reduced their per capita water usage by approximately 18 percent. That's considerable progress toward the goal of reducing per capita water consumption by 25 percent by 2050, using 2000 use as a baseline. However, some population projections place the state's population at nearly 6 million people by 2050 — and 7 million by 2060 — which means ongoing and enhanced conservation efforts will be needed to adequately stretch Utah's precious water resources.
Conservation will also postpone development of water projects in the state, which will be very costly. Unlike the past, when federal funding supported most large-scale water projects, Utahns will likely bear the brunt of future water development costs.
Reducing water consumption by 25 percent by 2050, for instance, would make some 500,000 acre-feet of water available per year. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to cover an area of one acre to a depth of one foot, or 325,851 gallons. An acre-foot meets the industrial and municipal needs of about four people per year.
Achieving this goal will require a significant commitment to water conservation, particularly with lawns and other landscaping. Two-thirds of the existing water supply is used outdoors. Much of that water is wasted due to inefficient lawn watering and irrigation.
The state Division of Water Resources has added a feature to its Web site to help homeowners better assess how often they should water their lawns. The weekly lawn-watering guide and other water-saving tips can be found at www.slowtheflow.org. It will become an increasingly valuable resource as Utahns are asked to continually step up conservation measures to meet future demands.