Even though the current water year is the ninth driest ever, it is not yet time to panic about possible water shortages this summer.

Salt Lake City Public Utilities Director LeRoy W. Hooton Jr. says if residents conserve water too early, much of the spring runoff that cannot be stored could run unused and wasted into the Great Salt Lake.Conservation is needed more in later summer months when snowpack-supplied canyon streams dwindle. Water supplies then come mainly from large reservoirs such as Deer Creek which may not fill during water-short years such as this.

Hooton and other water officials say residents should now "use what you need, but don't waste any water either." But they warn the water situation and the need for conservation measures could change month to month.

Water officials now guess that Salt Lake City will face no water restrictions this year, but the suburbs may.

The reason is that the city holds the rights to much of the water along the Wasatch Front, and serves its residents first. Surpluses may be sold to the suburbs, which usually need them to avoid restrictions. But surplus city water may be cut back this dry year.

Deer Creek Reservoir may aggravate the situation. Officials said it may not fill. Worse, the city has already had to use a good share of its allotment during the winter to maintain a required 100 cubic-feet-per-second flow in the Provo River to protect fish. Up to 30 percent of the city's Deer Creek water may be gone before it would normally start heavily using that supply in the summer.

On the brighter side, though, water officials have taken some recent action that could minimize possible restrictions later.

For example, the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District which serves suburbs is completing expansion of a water treatment plant in Bluffdale. It may now treat 180 million gallons of water a day instead of just 72 million.

That plant had been a bottleneck in the system. Even when adequate water supplies existed, shortages sometimes still resulted because water couldn't be treated and delivered fast enough.

Hooton said the city has also been seeding clouds to increase the canyon snowpack.

So again, residents do not yet need special conservation measures but they should keep track of changes in the water supply that may necessitate them later. Likewise, unnecessarily wasting water could still send hopes for a restriction-free summer down the drain.