Utah farmers facing another irrigation water shortage

Posted at 9:37 PM, May 03, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is already warning Utah residents that they'll need to conserve water this summer.

Utah is expected to have another hot and dry summer. The month of May just began and hydrologists are already talking about a drought for the second year in a row.

As a result, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is asking residents in five counties to water their lawns only once a week.

"Most people want double what they should so if we just cut back a little, we won't see degradation in our landscape," said water district manager Scott Paxman.

A dry winter, run-off that's 50 percent of normal and reservoirs that aren't as full are all contributing to a potentially dire situation for farmers. They'll have less irrigation water to work with.

"It could be devastating, this is the main stay feed for our dairy operation," said farmer Kerry Gibson.

The Gibson family is already rationing irrigation water on their West Weber farm. If Utahns don't conserve, they fear their water supply will be reduced and they'll lose their crop.

"It's important that we all work together because when we aren't successful with this crop, then that means the cost of food goes up for everybody and that's a big deal," said farmer Ron Gibson.

Weber water officials will reassess their situation June 1. If water supplies don't increase through voluntary conservation, they may put mandatory restrictions in place, including a 10 percent water reduction.

While Utah suffered a drought last year, what's different this year is that many reservoirs aren't as full. The seven reservoirs in the Weber Basin's District are only 50 to 70 percent full.

The Gibsons are actually in a better situation than farmers in southeastern Utah. The snowpack has already melted in Moab, Monticello and Escalante. Those towns have two weeks of irrigation water left, according to Randy Julander, a snow surveyor with the Department of Agriculture.

"Agriculture is what's going to take the biggest beating in all this right here and we're talking agricultural production," Julander said.

"For those already facing just two weeks of water, that breaks my heart, it really does," said Kerry Gibson.

Hydrologist Brian McInerney with the National Weather Service says Utah is experiencing a small window of climate change. He believes most Utahns will not notice a water shortage but farmers will have to make tough decisions.

McInerney hopes that a cool, wet May may help farmers, at least in the short term.