NewsLocal News


Utah prepares for water restrictions in drought emergency

Utah drought map
Posted at 3:28 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 19:21:49-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Water restrictions could be coming sooner than expected because of Utah's drought emergency.

"Our soil conditions are record dry," said Candice Hasenyager, the deputy director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

The soil conditions are the driest they've been since 2006, she added. What that means is any storms that hit are now going into the ground and not filling up reservoirs. There's also low snowpack. That will all have a downstream effect, with less water available for irrigation and outdoor watering.

All of Utah is in a moderate drought category. More than 90% of the state is in an extreme drought category. Because of that, Governor Spencer Cox has issued a state of emergency. The last time Utah was in a drought emergency was in 2018.

"These storms keep lining up, which is helpful. But we started in a deficit, that’s the problem," Gov. Cox told FOX 13 on Monday.

Gov. Cox said he expected local water conservancy districts to start implementing water restrictions. How extreme they will be will depend on the part of the state.

"We anticipate most water districts will put restrictions on fairly early. Those decisions will be made at the local level depending on how much storage they have. But our water districts are careful. I know in my water district they’re talking about restrictions as early as June, which is extremely early for us," he said, referencing his farm land in Fairview.

The Utah Division of Water Resources has been telling local water districts to have drought plans in place. It is expected there will be restrictions on agricultural use and outdoor watering. Utah's drinking water supply is not affected — yet. Hasenyager urged people to do their part to conserve this year, particularly when it comes to lawns and gardens.

"The most important thing we can all do is wait to water. About 60% of our residential use is used outdoors, so waiting to water will save water for the next day," she said.

It is also expected that agriculture — which is a big water user — may also face some restrictions, Hasenyager said.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council was briefed on plans for water conservation measures. Deputy Mayor Catherine Kanter said they were working on plans to track water use in the county and shore up conservation measures. Cities and counties were encouraged to have water restrictions plans in place.

A formal plan was expected next month, but the county is urging residents to water less, consider low-flow toilets, take shorter showers and convert unnecessary turf areas to water-wise landscaping.

The drought could also increase the length of wildfire season this year, with the potential for more extreme fires.

"It definitely can cause an earlier start to the fire season and cause it to go on longer," said Jason Curry, the spokesman for Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. "Obviously, Mother Nature’s in charge."

Curry urged people to be aware of the potential for fires when they plan to be outdoors this year and take steps to prevent them.

"Drought’s bad enough with the lack of water," he said. "Let’s not have fires, too."