Utah’s water outlook has improved slightly, but the west remains in control of the long-term drought
Some members of the water development commission suggested that Utah need to dam more rivers.
The Utah water crisis caused by the drought has eased somewhat after a series of monsoons, but the state’s water supplies are far from secure with reservoirs across the state being below 40% full, state officials told lawmakers Tuesday. Only a massive blanket of snow this winter can ensure adequate supplies well into next year, and even then, Utah’s water future remains uncertain in the face of long-term drought and climate change.
July saw extreme or exceptional drought across the state, and Utah’s two largest lakes reached their lowest levels on record.
“We’re all setting false records,” said Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, the Legislative Water Development Commission. “Then came August. We had a great monsoon season that we didn’t get last year. “
The August precipitation was normal four times in many places.
“Fast forward to the last week of September 7th, when 88% of the state is experiencing an extreme and exceptional drought. So our drought conditions have improved, ”said Hasenyager.
All eyes are on the Colorado River, a source of water that supplies much of the American Southwest. Its rivers have declined so much after 20 years of drought and warming that the river was declared a deficiency in the Lower Basin States last month and Lake Powell, Utah, looks more like a puddle than the second largest reservoir in the country.
The Federal Bureau of Reclamation has forecast that by next May the lake will fall to the point that it will no longer be able to generate hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam, said Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s commissioner for the Colorado River Authority. To reduce the risk of this happening, the office is releasing 181,000 acres from the Flaming Gorge and two other Upper Basin reservoirs this summer and fall.
“Depending on how you look at the numbers, it’s the second or third driest year on record on the Colorado River,” Shawcroft said. “All reservoirs are below their past minimum heights. So we are on new territory.
Some members of the water development commission suggested the drought will have to impound more rivers in Utah.
“Are we looking at other deposits in the state?” Said Rep Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield. “It is time we looked at other deposits at different drainages.”
Describing himself as an optimist, Albrecht said he believed the drought in the west would end and that Utah should position itself to catch the water if it snows heavily again.
“Increased storage capacity will be an important factor for our growth in the future. We will have built a wall around our borders, ”said Albrecht. “People are moving in here like crazy.”
Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council declined, arguing that Utah’s water needs will decrease as water-intensive agriculture is being displaced by the growth described by Albrecht.
“We are converting our farmland into asphalt, subdivisions, shopping malls and houses. And because urban areas use less water per hectare than agricultural areas, this leads to a growth in our water supply, ”said Frankel.
He said that on KSL.com you will find eight pages of water rights up for sale showing a vibrant market for water available along the Wasatch front.
“If you calculate how much water will be available from the unfortunate paving of our farmland right along the Wasatch Front, there is an excess of municipal water,” he said. “So this begs the question: should we just ignore this water in favor of anew? [water] Development? Are we so eager to build reservoirs that are very dear to Utah taxpayers that we are willing to ignore the water in these canals? “