Summer zapping reservoir storage levels

Voluntary water conservation sought in Weber Basin

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22 2012 6:08 p.m. MDT

Pelicans fly over the higher water levels at Bear Lake, Utah Friday, July 1, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The manager of a seven-reservoir water system in northern Utah is planning to ask residents, farmers and businesses to voluntarily cut back on water usage as August winds down and the fall season approaches.

Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said the biggest savings in water use can be achieved with lawns and urban gardens by people setting the "sprinkler clock" back to curtail usage as days grow shorter. Users are being asked to refrain from watering their lawns until after 6 p.m. and before 10 a.m.

Right now, the water storage and delivery system that serves as the source of drinking and irrigation water for Davis, Weber, Morgan and portions of Summit and Box Elder counties is in decent shape, with just over a year's supply left, Flint said.

Still, he wishes it were better.

'We are coming off a winter that did not yield any near normal runoff," he said. "We had reservoirs that started full because of the flood year last year that are depleted because of the hot summer and lack of runoff in the spring."

Ideally, reservoir managers like to head into the fall at least in the 50 percent to 60 percent capacity range, said Randy Julander, supervisor of the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service's Snow Survey.

"The whole purpose is to catch water when you have a surplus and use it when you have a deficit," Julander said.

That storage is intended to carry over from year to year to see the state through dry times like these, he said.

Flint said the system is working — he projects it will be at 56 percent by the end of the irrigation season — with no reason this year to call for mandatory restrictions.

"Because of that storage, we will have drinking water available for many many years of drought put together."

The district's situation, however, is made complicated and more tenuous because of the draw down on the levels of Echo Reservoir that have been necessary for seismic upgrades.

While there is some extra water being stored upstream at Rockport Reservoir, it will take an average snowpack this winter to get levels back to normal.

"Their particular situation is hard because any time you take a reservoir down that low it is cause for concern," Julander said. "They will be on pins and needles waiting on snowpack this winter."

Julander's analysis of the water availability index statewide is rather dreary, with only one of the major basins — Bear River — showing average at 53 percent. The index looks at existing reservoir storage combined with the amount of water in the streams flowing into those systems. A number in the 50 percent range is "dead on," in terms of average water availability.

"Pretty much across the state we are not doing real well," he said. Those numbers, too, are from early August and are "absolutely" down, Julander said.

"We have been blowing through water faster than a politician can go through money."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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