Eugene Swalberg, Utah Division of Parks and Recreation
A view of Deer Creek Reservoir. The systems and reservoirs Utah has in place have already given us the flexibility needed to cope with whatever the snowpack may be.

Utah’s ski industry just announced that the 2017-18 ski season was the sixth best, despite snowfall being only 60 percent of average. They credit, in part, an investment in snowmaking infrastructure that helped make up for what Mother Nature failed to deliver. Utah can tout the same philosophy for water. Because of an investment in critical water infrastructure decades ago, we are not in crisis.

We often forget when we are water skiing on Jordanelle or sitting around a campfire at Upper Stillwater Campground that those bodies of water aren’t there just for us to enjoy recreationally. Those reservoirs’ purpose is to store the water we use on our gardens, in our toilets and to brush our teeth. That water can travel more than 100 miles from when it hits the ground high in the mountains until it comes out of your tap. And without those reservoirs, we would all be much more concerned about how much snow and rain falls and when.

There’s no doubt that the southern half of the state is facing a difficult summer when it comes to water, particularly for those in the agricultural industry looking to irrigate crops and feed livestock. However, this year’s dismal snowpack and poor runoff doesn’t automatically equal water shortages statewide. That’s because last year we had above-normal snowpack and near-record runoff, which meant we could fill up our reservoirs and store that water for this year. In fact, right now most of the reservoirs in northern Utah are full or close to it.

Some might accuse me of painting a picture with the glass (or reservoir) half full in an attempt to advocate building more reservoirs and systems, while ignoring other factors and solutions. That is not the case. As we head into another hot Utah summer, the discussion about water has prompted many questions: Do we as Utahns use too much water? How much more water can we conserve? Do we need mandatory water use restrictions? Do we have enough water to support our natural population growth, as well as large corporations (i.e. Facebook) to build here? How will climate variability impact our water supply in the decades to come? These are challenging questions with complicated answers. They are also the kinds of questions I face not just in low snowpack years, but every day of my career.

I don’t know how many ski days Mother Nature will give us next year, but I do know that the systems and reservoirs we have in place have already given us the flexibility needed to cope with whatever the snowpack may be. I also know that whatever we conserve today is water that can be stored and made available if and when we are hit with a bad water year.

11 comments on this story

So as you plan your family summer vacation to the lake, remember that water is there for us all to enjoy and for us all to protect. That good infrastructure is the partner to wise water use. It’s there because someone else before us was thinking for the future. The question before us is how will we add to this safety net?

Gene Shawcroft is the general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. Central Utah Water’s primary responsibility is to develop, conserve and deliver clean water to customers in eight counties through a network of facilities including water treatment facilities, pipelines and dams.