NewsUtah Drought


Utah's 'dismal' water year ends, but drought likely to continue into next year

Posted at 4:11 PM, Oct 01, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah ended its water year on Friday, recording one of the most "dismal" in recent history.

"We experienced some of the worst water supply conditions in our lifetimes," said Candice Hasenyager, the director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

Utah recorded record low stream levels, record low reservoirs and record dry soils. The Great Salt Lake, a critical part of northern Utah's ecosystem, hit a new low.

A little bit of good news came from local water districts, who reported that Utahns overall conserved billions of gallons of water, which stretched supplies a little further. As a result, Utah's Department of Natural Resources said it appeared there is enough drinking water for next year.

But projections show Utah's drought continuing into next year. State officials have asked the legislature to extend the state of emergency for drought.

"It’s going to take a lot to get out of this drought. We’re expecting we would need at least 150% of normal snowpack to feel comfortable going into next year, so we will likely ask people to conserve again next year," Hasenyager told FOX 13.

Zach Frankel, the executive director of the environmental group Utah Rivers Council, said he expected the bad water situation to continue for years to come.

"This has been one of the worst water years on record coming in a climate change mega-drought where we’ve had a series of bad water years in a row," he said in an interview Friday with FOX 13.

The Utah State Legislature is expected to consider a number of policy proposals aimed at water conservation when it meets in January. Frankel said lawmakers should have addressed the situation long before that.

"It’s October 1 and we haven’t seen any new legislation out of the legislature at all. That’s been a complete and total failure," he said. "We’ve had no water conservation leadership from the statehouse whatsoever."

At his monthly news conference, Governor Spencer Cox said a number of drought-related policies are being crafted, aimed at water conservation, development and agriculture's big consumption of water.

"I think you’ll see several bills coming out that are conservation related bills and making sure we’re doing more," the governor told reporters.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources recently released a water management draft plan that prepares for growth over the next 50 years. The report suggested that Utah has enough water resources available to meet needs until 2070, even accounting for impacts from climate change.

"As long as we have that reliable supply that is true," Hasenyager said. "This year, we didn’t have the same reliable supply."

The plan pushes more conservation measures, but also considers some controversial projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River development projects. It also identified more reservoirs needed to accommodate Utah's growth.

Hasenyager told FOX 13 there were as many as 300 potential reservoir sites under consideration across the state.

"I have to say a substantial amount of work will still need to go in to see if it’s viable, if the sites are viable, if there’s demand, who’s going to pay for it," she said.

The state's water plan is now out for public comment, and people can weigh in here. Frankel said people should also be calling their legislators to demand actual bills to deal with the impacts of the drought.

"Climate change means every water year on average is going to be less than what we’re used to," he said. "And that’s what we have to get our head around."