"If Brigham Young had stopped 100 miles to the east, Utah wouldn't have a water problem."

That quip, heard recently in a meeting discussing Utah's current five-year drought, brought the expected laughter. But the laughter was short-lived. For most Utahns, water - or more accurately, the lack of it - is not an issue to take lightly.Had the Mormon pioneers headed south from Fort Bridger and ended up in the Uintah Basin, making it Utah's population center, most of the present-day thirst for water would have been quenched. After all, Utah's entitlement to Colorado River water, which includes the Green River that runs through the Uintah Basin, is substantial. That entitlement stems from a 1922 treaty involving seven states.

Colorado dreaming

Instead, the pioneers followed a more westerly tack, ending up in the Salt Lake Valley, an arid strip of land sandwiched between the towering Wasatch Mountains and the relatively useless Great Salt Lake. And, unfortunately, the rugged, mountainous terrain separating the Wasatch Front and the Uintah Basin makes it highly unlikely that any significant amount of Utah's largely unused Colorado River entitlement will ever make it across the mountains and into the densely populated Salt Lake Valley.

Outside of a small water allotment from the Central Utah Project's Jor-danelle Dam, the Colorado River entitlement will only secure the Wasatch Front's water future until 2010. At the same time, the river's water is being coveted by water-hungry California and Arizona.

Rural vs. urban

As Utah enters into a fifth consecutive drought year, the dichotomy between rural and urban areas is dramatically exposed. The 1990 Census shows that 77.6 percent of the people living in Utah are packed into a 70 mile stretch along the Wasatch Front from Ogden on the north to Provo on the south. Even though the bulk of the water produced in drainages feeding the Weber, Ogden and Provo rivers finds its way into this highly populated area, planners say this will not be enough to meet anticipated urban growth projections.

Ironically, the current drought follows one of the wettest five-year cycles in recent Utah history. From 1981 to 1986 Utah received more rain and snow than it could handle. Reservoirs were full and the ground completely saturated. Simply put, there was no place for additional water to go.

In 1983, areas along the Wasatch Front were devastated by massive flooding and mud slides triggered by late spring storms. With the ground saturated, the excess water could not penetrate into the soil. And full reservoirs left water officials with no ability to control the unexpected runoff. Officials were virtually helpless in stopping the ensuing flooding.

This year's spate of late spring storms will not likely cause the same kinds of problems that turned Salt Lake into a western Venice in 1983, when then Gov. Scott Matheson stood on a makeshift bridge above Salt Lake's flooded State Street and declared "This is a hellava way to

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(Additional information)

GRAPHIC\ Green tips

Aerate turf at least once a year

Sharpen mower blades

Raise moving height to 2 1/2 to 3 inches.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn

Fertilize with high-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer at 1/3 to 1/2 the recommended rate.

Water deeply and infrequently.

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(Additional information)

GRAPHIC\ Water conservation checklist

Check your toliet for leaks

Stop using your toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket.

Put two plastic bottles in your toilet tank.

Take shorter showers

Install water-saving shower heads or flow restrictors.

Turn off the water after you wet your toothbrush.

Rinse your razor in the sink.

Check faucets and pipes for leaks.

Use your automatic dishwasher only for full loads.

If you wash dishes by hand, don't leave the water running for rinsing.

Don't let the faucet run while cleaning vegetables.

Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator.

Use your automatic washing machine only for full loads.

Plant drought-rresistant trees and plants.

Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants.

Use a broom to clean driveways and sidewalks.

Don't run the hose while washing your car.