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Colorado River faces more stress in drought and more Utah reservoirs may go dry

Posted at 4:01 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 09:18:44-04

SPANISH FORK, Utah — At an event with members of the Strawberry Water Users Association, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson urged continued conservation as the state headed into another summer in a drought emergency.

The members, some who are agriculture producers, will likely have less water again this year because of the mega-drought.

"We’re trying to put bigger plans in place for long-term conservation and water development here in the state of Utah," Lt. Gov. Henderson told FOX 13 News. "But right now, it’s critical people make sure they’re not over-watering their lawns, that they take advantage of the turf buyback programs, doing their part on an individual basis to conserve water."

Local water districts are starting to roll out restrictions. Agriculture producers will have less water to use. Residents will have their outdoor water use limited.

"We're in a world of hurt right now," Lt. Gov. Henderson said, noting that statewide, reservoirs are only 58% full.

The reservoirs get leaned on to provide water in more lean years.

"It’s worse than it was going into it last year," she said. "So there are a lot of places that aren’t sure what’s going to happen when their reservoirs run dry."

Last week, Governor Spencer Cox declared a new state of emergency for drought in Utah. A drought plan has already been sped up for the mighty Colorado River. Last week, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico jointly agreed to release water from Flaming Gorge in order to keep Lake Powell downstream generating electricity.

While snowpack looks good, the soils are still dry which creates problems, said Gene Shawcroft, the head of the Colorado River Authority of Utah, which negotiates water with the other states.

"The forecast now projects about 70% runoff into Lake Powell. Last year, the runoff ended up being 30%. We should be better this year, but there’s still concern about the long-term elevations at Powell. That’s why this action was taken," he told FOX 13 News on Monday.

The result is Flaming Gorge will drop 15-feet. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Interior is holding some water back in Lake Powell, which is now only 24% full. The decision keeps Lake Powell generating electricity for millions in the West.

"About a year from now there could be a million acre feet in Lake Powell that otherwise wouldn’t be there," Shawcroft said.

How bad the drought will be depends on where you live. For example, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is projecting a rough year for the five counties it serves in northern Utah and is going so far as to ask residents to cut indoor water use by 10% to save water.

Shawcroft, who is also the general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, said his agency has sold water for Weber Basin to help out. The Weber Basin water district is paying full price for it like any other water user and the Central Utah water district has some to spare.

"There’s a connection, a physical connection, between the Weber River and the Provo River," he said, explaining how it will happen.

But across Utah, water managers are pleading with people to conserve again. The state will be rolling out more water conservation measures — including money for people to remove unnecessary turf and getting agriculture producers to switch to water-saving technologies.

"We are requesting a ton from everyone," Shawcroft said. "We want to everyone to do everything they can to cut back."