Utah's Water Supply

What is the Origin of Our Water?

How Does the Water Get to Me?

How Should I Use It?

What is the Future of Water in Utah?

What is the Origin of Our Water?

The Hydrologic Cycle

          Water covers more than two-thirds of the earth, but less than one percent is fresh water that we use for drinking, agriculture, manufacturing, food processing, recreation, sanitation, and similar needs.  The other 99 percent is in oceans and polar ice caps, generally inaccessible, unsuitable for human and animal needs.

          Earth's water is recycled through an endless process called the Hydrologic Cycle.  Approximately 95,000 cubic miles of water return to the atmosphere each year and fall to earth as precipitation.  We use the same water that dinosaurs drank, because the amount of water on the earth today is exactly the same as it was billions of years ago.

Northern Utah

          Different types of precipitation at various times of the year in northern Utah are beneficial in a number of ways. Winter snows are a major source of spring and summer runoff in streams and rivers and for recharging groundwater and springs. Fall rain improves soil condition and supplies and sustains autumn streamflows. Spring and summer rain is ideal for crops and rangeland.


          Most of Utah's precipitation comes in the form of snow.  The state also receives rain, hail, mist and sleet.  As a general rule, it snows heaviest in January in northern parts of the state and in March in southern areas.  Precipitation is much less in southern Utah.  Below normal precipitation in mountain areas can cause water shortages.  Annual precipitation data is recorded by "water year", October 1 through September 30.

          During the winter, storms bring most of Utah's moisture from the Pacific Ocean.  During the summer, much of the state's moisture comes from the Gulf of California.  Under certain conditions, a phenomenon called "the lake effect" from the Great Salt Lake is an added source of moisture for Salt Lake City.

How Does the Water Get to Me?

          Cities and towns, agriculture, and industries in Utah rely on groundwater from wells and springs and water from streams and rivers, either diverted directly or stored in reservoirs, to meet their needs.  Water storage in reservoirs from spring and early summer runoff is particularly important to year-round water users.

          A valid water right is required to divert or use water in Utah.  The supply of water from a particular source is distributed among water users based on a priority date.  Under Utah law, a water right with the earliest priority date receives the water supply first.

          Water is distributed through private companies, water conservancy districts, and similar agencies.  Before water is delivered for culinary and other household or commercial uses, it is treated to remove bacteria and other unacceptable elements.

          A portion of snowmelt soaks into the ground and recharges underground aquifers. If the ground is extremely dry from insufficient moisture in previous months or years, a great deal of water from snowmelt never reaches streams, rivers or reservoirs. Two or three wet years are needed to return hydrologic conditions to normal after a drought. A single snowstorm or rainstorm, no matter how heavy, will not completely alleviate drought conditions.

How Should I Use It?

          We need water to live, but it is a limited resource.  Current and future demand for water makes it imperative that Utahns learn to use water wisely and conservatively to avoid water shortages.  Ways to preserve and protect the daily water supply include:

Drinking Water

          We need water to drink. We can't live without it.  Citizens of Utah have a right to expect public drinking water to be pure.

          Drinking water is taken from either groundwater (springs and wells) or surface water sources such as reservoirs. In the heavily populated Wasatch Front area. approximately 40 percent of the municipal water supply comes from surface water sources. Many communities in rural Utah use water from springs because it is generally good quality and can be developed easily. As communities grow, wells are used when water demands rise in the summer. Some areas of the state rely exclusively on wells for a water supply.

Water Treatment

          Although many disease causing organisms are removed from water as it filters through the earth's mantle, surface water must be extensively treated to remove disease organisms and prevent their regrowth. Contaminated drinking water has caused outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis, giardiasis, and other diseases.

         Chemical contamination of drinking water is a major concern. Solvents, herbicides and pesticides are thought to cause cancer and other debilitating or life threatening diseases when ingested in trace amounts over a long period of time. Water treatment is essential when chemicals are found in the water supply. Preventing contamination of our water supplies is better than trying to clean them up after they have been contaminated.

         This sign is displayed where water supplies meet state water quality standards. Ninety-nine percent of Utah's population receives water from systems that meet or exceed state standards.

What About the Future?


         Drought is a normal feature of climate.  During the past century, the U.S. has been plagued by numerous drought episodes and innumerable dry spells.  In fact, it is unusual for drought not to occur somewhere in the nation each year.

          Residents of Utah have learned the past 15 years that droughts of long and short duration produce significant problems.  Producers of agricultural products, municipalities, and other water-dependent sectors or groups should adopt appropriate and efficient management practices that help alleviate the effects of drought.  Preparing for drought risks should be routine.

Future Water Development

         The foresight of early leaders in Utah, who wisely promoted the building of dams, irrigation systems, water treatment plants and continued development of water sources, has helped insure an adequate supply of high quality water for residents of the state.  Adequate water supplies can be developed and maintained for future generations through water planning, management, and education.

          Use of water conservation measures is a short-term alternative to developing new water sources or importing water from long distances.  Water conservation can postpone the need for new, larger water projects for several years.

          Future water development will be costly. The most economical projects have been built.  Building dams, pipelines, and water treatment plants now takes several years, because of environmental and other requirements.  The additional costs of water development will be passed on to the water user.

          Agriculture, industry, and individuals can make a difference.  Be aware of water issues and concerns.  Learn and implement better ways to utilize Utah's precious water resources. WATER IS LIFE - DON'T WASTE IT!