Utah is experiencing extreme drought conditions across the state, and we don’t know how long this drought will last. Extreme drought calls for extreme water-saving measures to extend the water supply. Gov. Cox issued a third Executive Order due to drought conditions on June 8 further restricting water use at state facilities and also prohibiting fireworks for all state and unincorporated lands. The Governor declared a state of emergency due to drought on March 17 and issued a second Executive Order on May 3 requiring water conservation at state facilities.
Water is complicated and involves the coordination of several state agencies as well as local water suppliers. Drought policy decisions are most appropriate and effective if made at the local level because they can be customized to meet the needs of each area. The Governor’s executive order provides guidance for communities and systems statewide. It is then the responsibility of each community and system to implement policies based upon those recommendations.
Q. Isn’t this drought just part of Utah’s “normal” cycle?
A. 100% of the state is in drought (with 90% categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as extreme drought). These conditions are worse than most of us have seen in our lifetime and potentially the worst on record. Some of the factors leading to our current conditions are:
- 2020 was the driest year on record as well as one of the hottest. This led to record dry soils.
- Snowpack was dismal (topping out at 81% and peaking 10 days early), and record dry soils soaked up what little run off we received. As a result, As of June 1, streams statewide are flowing at less than 50% of normal.
- A dry April was followed by an even drier May, with less than one-half inch of precipitation accumulated in valley locations.
- As of June 1, statewide reservoir levels are 15% lower than this time last year, with 21 out of 42 of our largest reservoirs below 55%. Conditions vary across the state. Some reservoirs are doing okay but others could run dry this season.
Q. What does this emergency mean to Utah citizens?
A. Everyone’s help is needed to stretch our limited water resources. As one of the driest states in the nation, we always need to be conscious of water use. In a drought, it’s even more important to reduce your use – especially with landscape watering where 60% of residential water is used. Small changes add up, so consider ways you can save water that work for you. Water-saving tips and money-saving rebates at SlowTheFlow.org
Q. What can I do as a Utah Citizen?
A. Be informed. There are many resources to help you stay informed and make smart decisions. Look for ways you can save water. Small changes add up.
- Monitor drought conditions at Drought.utah.gov
- See water-saving tips and other useful resources at SlowTheFlow.org
- Pay attention to our Extreme Drought Watering Guide at ConserveWater.utah.gov
Q. Will there be water rationing and when might it begin?
A. As the drought progresses, mandatory restrictions are a strong possibility and some have already been implemented. Restrictions are implemented and enforced at the local level. However, we don’t anticipate any municipal water systems to move beyond outdoor watering restrictions this summer. Check with your local provider for any restrictions in your area.
Q. Can I fill my pool?
A. There are no statewide requirements on pools at this time. You should call the city or county you live in to check your local requirements. You may also want to check with your local water provider regarding water pricing. Water pricing structure varies among providers. However, in general, water cost increases with higher usage and depending upon the size of your pool, you may be charged at a higher rate.
If you do fill your pool, we recommend that you:
- Cover your pool when not in use to help reduce water loss due to evaporation.
- Avoid overfilling your pool. Keeping your pool 3-4 inches below the fill level reduces the amount of water loss due to splashing.
Q. How are policy decisions made?
A. Emergencies begin and end at a local level. Local governments and water providers have water conservation and drought plans to guide their actions. It is most effective for potential water restrictions to be determined at the local level. This allows for customization according to each area’s water supply, climate and other conditions.
Q. What happens when a drought declaration is made?
A. A drought declaration activates the Drought Response Committee which includes representatives from different sectors, including water availability, agriculture, municipal suppliers, wildlife, commerce and tourism, and the economic industry. The tasks of this committee are to:
- Review hardships and unmet needs
- Identify and recommend action
- Ensure Inter-agency coordination
- Raise awareness of drought conditions and water use
- Outline steps we all can take to use our limited resource more efficiently and stretch the water supply
Q. What is a Drought Response Plan?
A. The Drought Response Plan outlines different conditions and enlists task forces to report drought impacts. This plan identifies:
- A State Drought Coordinator
- An assessment system and criteria for when drought actions are taken
- Impact Task Forces – The Plan outlines six main Task Forces, their lead agencies and what impacts they should gather and report
Q. How does Utah monitor water supply?
A. The Division of Water Resources leads the Water Supply Availability Committee, which continually monitors water conditions across the state, regardless of drought, to ensure water security. As conditions failed to improve, the Water Supply Availability Committee (lead by the Division of Water Resources) recommended the Drought Review and Reporting Committee consider additional actions, including recommending an official drought declaration, which activates the Drought Response Committee. The Division also gathers statewide data that is shared with the U.S. Drought Monitor Map authors. This is critical because federal funding is tied to the U.S. Drought Monitor Map and not triggered by a drought declaration.
Q. What is drought versus climate change?
A. Drought is defined as a change from what is typical. It is difficult to determine what difference is due to seasonal drought versus climate change. This is something that is being studied on many different levels, including state and federal.
Q. What happens when there is a shortage of water?
A. Shortages hit agriculture and livestock first. Irrigation users rely heavily on streamflow. One irrigation company in the center of the state typically receives 1,000 to 1,500 acre-feet of streamflow. This year they have received 11 acre-feet. Another irrigation company is giving irrigation users 25% of their allotment. Many cattle producers are selling cattle because the land they typically open graze their herds on has no vegetation to feed them due to the drought. Because of water planning and water storage facilities like reservoirs, municipal water shortages are unlikely this year. Existing storage can adequately supply drinking water. However, we don’t know how long this drought will last so water-saving actions are critical to keeping water in our reservoirs.
Q. Where do we get our water?
A. Snowpack is Utah’s largest water supply. It peaked 10 days early at 81% of average (as measured by NRCS).
- Peaking early means the runoff isn’t as effective, with less water making it to fill rivers, streams and reservoirs
- Streamflows around the state remain below average. According to NRCS streamflow models, some streams in the Bear, Weber, Duchesne, Sevier, and Virgin River basins may reach historic lows.
- Streamflow runoff forecast values range from 9% to 69% of average.
- Reservoir levels vary statewide and are dropping as water is pulled from them for summer use. (NRCS update reservoir levels at the beginning of the month, but reservoirs that are also state parks measure levels more frequently and list conditions on their website.)
Q. According to the 2020 Census, Utah is the fastest-growing state in the nation. How will you meet future water needs?
A. Our role as a water planning agency is to look for balanced solutions like conservation, efficiency, optimization, agriculture conversion and water development to meet water needs now and into the future.
Q. What agencies are involved in Utah’s water management?
A. Several state agencies share the stewardship for the state’s water management: