Virgin River near lowest level ever recorded, officials urge residents to conserve water

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jun 18, 2014

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Virgin River is near its lowest level ever recorded.  It's put cities on alert, implementing water restrictions, and officials with the water district said they're just hoping for strong monsoonal storms in July and August.

Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Ron Thompson said it's no surprise that drought conditions have continued another year in southern Utah, now numbers from the river prove it.

"The last two years were in the 50, 60, 70 percent of normal," Thompson said.  "We're down to 20, so it's two to three times worse than the previous two years, and except for 2002, probably the worst in the past 15 years."

The June 2014 Utah Climate and Water Report shows water availability on the Virgin River is at a steady decline since the early '90s. Thompson said one of the main reasons for the low levels this year is less than average snow pack and a lack of precipitation in the spring.

"June is traditionally driest month in terms of precipitation," Thompson said. "This year has been maybe worse than any, because there's been no precipitation."

Thompson said the larger reservoirs, like Sand Hollow and Quail Creek, are in a good spot, with enough water to last us a couple of years in extreme drought conditions, but they said smaller ones, like Gunlock, are significantly lower and could be completely dry by the end of the summer.

"We need to use our water wisely," Thompson said. "We should only use what our landscapes need, bare minimum."

Most Washington County cities have already implemented restrictions on culinary water use. Residents aren't surprised and said it's something everyone should be used to.

"We love to live in St. George. St. George is a desert, it's probably expected that we need to conserve water when we had a dry winter," St. George resident Tyne Seegmiller said.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District offers these water conservation tips:


In the yard—be beautiful and efficient:

  1. Plants
    1. Use plants that are tolerant to this climate, soils and low water use or native. See Utah Water-wise plants for a list of these plants. Or check out our local demonstration garden for more resources and landscaping ideas.
    2. Group plants according the their water needs. Put trees on a separate valve from the other plants that require a more frequent irrigation schedule.
    3. Design a water-efficient landscape. Be mindful of a site's exposure to the elements and choose plants that will thrive in the site's conditions.
    4. Place turfgrass strategically. Warm-season turf works best in this area, but if you are looking for a longer green period, tall fescue will do well. Plant turfgrass only where it has a practical function, such as a play area.
    5. Minimize steep slopes. Slopes can be challenging because of the potential for erosion and runoff. If slopes cannot be avoided in landscape design, install plantings with deeper root zones such as ground covers and shrubs to provide stabilization and prevent erosion.
  2. Soil
    1. Aerate your soil. Soil can become compacted during home construction or from normal foot traffic. Aerating your soil with a simple lawn aerator can increase the infiltration of water into the ground, improving water flow to the plant's root zone and reducing water runoff.
    2. Use mulch around shrubs and garden plants. This will help to reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Types of mulches include bark chips, grass clippings, straw, leaves, stones, and brick chips. Leave a few inches of space between trunks of woody plants and organic mulches to prevent rot.
    3. Keep your soil healthy! Healthy soils effectively cycle nutrients, minimize runoff, retain water and absorb excess nutrients, sediments and pollutants. If you have questions on the health of your soil, USU Extension office can help.
  3. Maintainence
    1. Raise your lawn mower cutting height. Raise your lawn mower blade, especially in the summer, when mowing too close to the ground will promote thirsty new growth. Longer grass promotes deeper root growth and a more drought resistant lawn. Longer grass blades also help shade each other, reducing evaporation, and minimizing weed growth. The optimal turfgrass height for tall fescue is 21/2 to 3 inches.
    2. Provide regular maintenance. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants, and remove weeds and thatch as necessary.
    3. Minimize or eliminate fertilizer. Fertilizer encourages thirsty new growth, causing your landscape to require additional water.
  4. Irrigation
    1. Adjust your irrigation system with the seasons. As the season change so will the irrigation needs of your landscape. The amount of time always stays the same, but the frequency of irrigations change. This webpage will give you the frequency.
    2. Set sprinklers to water only the things that grow—not the street, patios or sidewalks.
    3. Cycle irrigation time if run off occurs. If water is running on the sidewalk and into the gutter, then cycle your irrigation time. Run your system until you see runoff. Turn off your system and wait an hour, then run the system again repeating the pattern until the total irrigation time is completed.
    4. Inspect your irrigation system after each time you mow. It is a great management practice to check your irrigation system after each mowing. Run the system and look for leaks, broken or clogged heads and other problems. Clean micro-irrigation filters as needed.
    5. Install low-volume micro-irrigation for gardens, trees, and shrubs. Micro-irrigation devices irrigate slowly and minimize evaporation, runoff, and overspray. For more information on drip or microirrigation system this youtube video has some great information.
    6. Don't overwater. Learn plants' water needs and water appropriately. If you step on your lawn and the grass springs back, it does not need to be watered. Watering plants too much and too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease, fungus, and stormwater runoff. Water your trees and shrubs, which have deep root systems, longer and less frequently than shallow-rooted plants.
    7. Water when the time is right. The best time to water is in the early morning (4 to 7 a.m.)—to reduce evaporation—when the sun is low or down, winds are calm, and temperatures are cool. You can lose as much as 30 percent of water to evaporation by watering midday.

Around the House

  1. Sweep driveways, sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them off. Check your garden hose for leaks at its connection to the spigot. If it leaks while you run your hose, replace the nylon or rubber hose washer and ensure a tight connection to the spigot using pipe tape and a wrench.
  2. Be creative with alternative water sources. Use water from the bath, the dehumidifier or the sink on plants or in the garden. When using household wastewater, be careful not to use water that contains bleach, automatic-dishwashing detergent of fabric softener.


Fix a Leak.

  1. Did you know that an American home can waste, on average, more than 10,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks? That's why WaterSense reminds Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems each year in March during Fix-a-Leak Week.

In the bathroom—where over half of all water use inside a home takes place

  1. Turn off the tap while shaving or brushing teeth.
  2. Showers use less water than baths, as long as you keep an eye on how long you've been lathering up.

In the kitchen—whip up a batch of big water savings

  1. Plug up the sink or use a wash basin if washing dishes by hand.
  2. While you're at it, scrape that plate instead of rinsing before loading it into the dishwasher.
  3. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.
  4. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight rather than using a running tap of hot water.
  5. Add food wastes to your compost pile instead of using the garbage disposal.

In the laundry room—Where you can be clean AND green

  1. Wash only full loads of laundry or use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine.

The Water district also offers free water checks to let you know if you're over-watering your lawn. More information on that program can be found here.