Despite heat, Utah has enough water for now
But officials warn that a good winter is needed
Mike Anderson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — On the wall of his office at the Division of Water Resources, Director Dennis Strong has a sign that says "Let it snow."
"I touch it every day before I leave, even in the summer," he said. "We are so dependent on our snow pack."
With the completion of one of the driest Junes on record, Strong welcomes moisture in any form. Thursday's rainstorms ended 38 days without measurable precipitation in Salt Lake City — the 11th-longest period for the state's capitol, according to the National Weather Service.
The hot, dry conditions have naturally led to increased water usage around Utah, Strong said. But careful residents and reserve water left over from the wet winter and spring of 2011 have allowed most communities to get by without water restrictions.
"What we do know is water use is up," he said. "People are still doing a really good job at being water conscious."
In Davis, Weber, Summit and Morgan counties, water demand for May and June was approximately 35 percent above average, said Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.
The district is currently delivering 350 cubic feet of water for use each second, which Flint explained is more than double the amount of water passing through the Weber River at the mouth of Weber Canyon.
"The demands are way up, as one would expect," Flint said. "We're drawing from (the reservoirs) much earlier and using them quicker."
Mike Wilson, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy, said usage levels for April and May were approximately 33 percent above average.
"May by itself would be even more drastic than that," he said.
Those figures do not directly translate to water usage, he said, because municipalities typically pull from several water sources.
Flint could only speak for the Weber Basin, but said reservoirs have sufficient water to meet demand. The problem, he said, is that if Utah has another winter like it did in 2012 — or one only marginally wetter — the state could see a serious conservation effort next summer.
"The real wild card becomes next year," he said. "(Winter) will have to be average or above. That's what this kind of year causes."
Like Flint, Wilson said reservoirs are bolstered by last year's wet spring. Conservation districts plan and prepare for dry seasons and he was confident the demand would continue to be met.
"We feel like we're in really good shape," Wilson said.
Strong said it can be hard to say exactly how many years of dry conditions it takes to exhaust ground water supplies, but another dry winter would certainly result in more communities feeling a pinch.
"That's very speculative, but I don't see how we couldn't end up with some restrictions," he said.
That contrast between wet and dry years is what makes the current summer unique, Wilson said. Utah has seen dry, hot summers before and is in need of heavy winter snowfall, but we are not yet at the point of multiple-year droughts the state has passed through, he said.
Flint also mentioned the contrast from last year as a unique feature of the current summer season. He described 2012 as a "180-degree shift" from the flooding officials were dealing with into the summer months of 2011.
"It was one of the biggest flood years of my career," Flint said. "You fast-forward one year and we're seeing one of the driest on record."
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