Utahns had better pray for snow, and a lot of it.

Unless winter brings above-average moisture to Utah's mountains, there likely will be a shortage of irrigation water next summer, said Howard Pearson, operation and maintenance manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.Utah farmers have reported diminished production of hay and grain crops because of the irrigation shortages last summer. Another dry year will further compound the problem.

"If we have a drought we'll be in bad shape because we may not be able to fill Starvation (Reservoir). We need an above-normal water year to fill Starvation," Pearson said Friday.

The National Weather Service reported precipitation levels were below normal for the third consecutive year.

According to the district's year-end water report, Starvation Reservoir contained only 66,740 acre feet when it was measured at the end of October. "That's the lowest it's ever been," Pearson said.

Starvation Reservoir, located about 3 miles northwest of Duchesne, was built in the late 1960s. It is a long-term holding basin and is used to replace water to the Duchesne area that is diverted to the Strawberry Basin by the Strawberry Aqueduct and collection system.

Water officials also are concerned about the water supply of Strawberry Reservoir, which provides water storage for the Central Utah Project's Bonneville Unit.

The reservoir's elevation peaked in 1987 at 7,577 feet. But within the last two years, the reservoir's elevation has dropped more than 10,000 feet.

"Because of the drought situation, it's down more than 200,000 acre feet," Pearson said. An acre foot provides water for a family of four for a year.

Pearson said he projects that Salt Lake County's water supply should be stable.

"I think we will fill Deer Creek Reservoir so I'm not sure of shortages in Salt Lake County, but irrigators all over the state will suffer if we have another drought," he said.

If a shortage occurs, Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District have contingency plans to cope with the shortfall. Sandy residents, for example, agreed not to water lawns on certain days last summer to ascertain there was ample water for household uses and fire protection.

In the summer of 1988, Salt Lake City asked its major water users _ among them golf courses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and public parks _ not to water their lawns and trees one day a week. The voluntary rationing reserved drinking water for other users.

For now, all water officials can do is wait and see what Mother Nature provides.

"I'm sure if its a drought it's very likely some shortages will occur," Pearson said. "I hope we have a good winter."