S. Utah snowpack levels below average

Posted at 10:29 PM, Apr 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-15 00:29:29-04

ST. GEORGE -- Spring water levels in southern Utah are at some of the lowest levels they’ve seen in over a decade, and it has water managers arguing for a pipeline to bring water in from Lake Powell.

Snowpack levels in area mountains are at 47 percent of the average amount. Typically that snowpack is what water district managers rely on to fill reservoirs and prepare for the hot summer months.

Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Ron Thompson said there’s no water coming off the peaks.

“We’re actually seeing the river levels declining,” Thompson said. “We would normally expect our peak to occur in the next three weeks. It appears to us there will be no runoff peak at all.”

The Virgin River is registering at only 17 percent of average for this time of year, and the Santa Clara River is at 21 percent.

It’s the third straight year of low snowpack, and even though reserves could carry the population through, Thompson said it strengthens the argument for tapping into an additional water source.

“The need here is to make sure we keep a balance in our water system,” Thompson said. “We don’t harden it to the point that we can’t get through this extreme climate variability that has always existed here.”

The Lake Powell Pipeline would bring in water from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Hurricane. Projections show it would essentially double the area’s supply of water.

But opponents say the over $1 billion for the pipeline would be better used on conservation measures.

“It should be quite easy for people to just use water more mindfully,” said Leann Skzrynski, executive director for Citizens for Dixie’s Future. “We can make a big improvement in the numbers, which are currently some of the highest water usage numbers in the country.”

Skzrynski added the pipeline’s initial goal was to meet up with projected population growth, but numbers aren’t growing as fast. That means by the time the additional water is needed, strict conservation practices could be in place.

“We already have substantial amounts of water resources that combine with conservation that should eliminate the need for Lake Powell Pipeline,” Skzrynski said. “Of course there will have to be changes in efficiencies as we go along, and that’s certainly within everyone’s reach as Albuquerque [New Mexico] has proven.”

The water district says there’s always a conservation attitude, and argues certain financial models show the costs less than forced conservation.

Thompson said the infrastructure needs to be in place if and when the need arises.

Furthering the argument is the fact that while southwest Utah is in drought, the Upper Colorado Basin is showing snowpack levels of up to 150 percent.

But Skzrynski said global climate change is affecting all areas of the region, and that water, just like the Virgin River, isn’t a long-term reliable source.

The project is still in early stages and wouldn’t be complete until about 2020.