Worries over water outlook looms after driest May on record – St George News

ST. GEORGE —May ranked as the driest month on record for Iron and Washington counties according to the National Weather Service. For the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, it reinforces the need for water as well as the vital role reservoir conservations play in the county’s water supply.

Stock image | Photo by Piyaset/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“We essentially received no precipitation. It’s zero,” Zach Renstrom, the water district’s general manager, said Thursday. “It’s bad… We weren’t able to refill our reservoirs this year.”

Long-range weather forecasts are predicting a dry summer as the drought continues. According to the US Drought Monitor, over 99% of Utah is in a state of either severe to extreme drought.

Like the rest of the state, county reservoirs are designed to be refilled with runoff from melting snowpack accumulated at higher elevations. A good year sees a snow-water equivalent (or how much water would be in the snowpack if it melted) peak at 16 inches, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources. The equivalent this year peaked at 12 inches, which is 75% of the typical median peak.

Utah’s overall water storage is at 63% as of the end of May. This time last year, it was 67%. Of the state’s 45 largest reservoirs, 18 are below 55% of their available capacity. Flows in streams and rivers are also expected to be low due to low snowpack.

Washington County’s current water storage is at 70%, with Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs at 70% and 82% respectively, according to the water district’s website.

A map showing the state of the drought in Utah at the end of May 2022 | Graphic courtesy of US Draft Monitor, St. George News

This will be enough to carry the county through another summer, Renstrom said, but he added he hopes to see some heavy monsoonal rains this summer as well. Beyond that remains to be seen.

With what is left of the snowpack melting away, the soil will begin to dry out. The drier the soil becomes, officials say, the more water it will soak up like a sponge. This is already beginning to happen and is claiming water that would otherwise flow to reservoirs and steams. However, if the soil becomes sufficiently saturated, melting snowpack will be able to eventually reach and refill area reservoirs.

“We’re worried right now. We’re hopeful, but we’re worried that if we don’t get monsoonal rains, then next year’s runoff will be dismal,” Renstrom said. “It does make us nervous because it gives us that much mess water to carry over for future years if we have another extremely dry year. This wasn’t our worst year for runoff, but it wasn’t even average.”

While concerns over the latest drought news triggers some worry, it also serves as a reminder for people to be wiser with their water use.

Renstrom said Washington County has led the state in water conservation efforts and has reduced overall water use by 30% even as the county’s population has grown over the last 20 years. As for what people can begin to do on their own in order to save water, Renstrom recommended they look at their landscaping and apply conservative watering measures.

Stock image by Mori Kessler, St. George News

This includes knowing how many times a week a lawn or landscaping actually needs to be watered so overwatering does not occur. It also includes fixing potential leaks or breaks in the lawn sprinkler system, and becoming familiar with area watering restrictions and applying them.

“Even though it may not be as severe as it has been in years past for the drought, the fact is that if you can save that water, it’s more for us to use next year,” he said.

Other ways people can save water is by converting their landscaping to something more water wise-friendly, or even taking shorter showers. The latter is a practice state officials asked the public to adopt last summer.

According to Harvard University, a typical shower head uses 2.5 gallons of water a minute. The average American is estimated to take an 8-minute shower, which comes to 20 gallons used, or 7,300 annually if they shower daily. For those who like to take a full 10 minutes, that use jumps to 25 gallons, or 9,125 gallons annually.

Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Zach Renstrom speaks at the Washington County Water Summit, St. George, Utah, Nov. 9, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

If someone who showers the estimated 8-minute average drops a minute, that could save up to 912.5 gallons annually.

The push for water conservation has become increasingly paramount over the last 18 months due to the drought. Because of this, the water district is moving on the creation of a county-wide water reuse system while also looking at the potential for deep wells along the Hurricane fault.

The Lake Powell Pipeline project also continues to creep along and could take another decade to come to fruition.

Between now and whenever new water sources and systems are brought on line, the county will continue to heavily rely on its reservoirs.

“It’s like a savings account,” Renstrom said. “If you leave that water in the reservoir, then it’s there for the times we need it.”

The county’s reservoirs – particularly Quail Creek and Sand Hollow – are credited with providing a much-needed water supply and storage system that has helped spur and sustain area growth for over 35 years.

Copyright George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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