After six years of drought, Carbon County residents have watched with increasing despair as the Price River dwindled to a trickle.
In April, watering was restricted to three days a week. By June, it was down to two days. Now it is one. Grass is turning brown in the Price city park and yards all around the central Utah town.Outside the city, farms are either fallow or relying solely on rain to sustain stunted crops because irrigation ditches have not carried a drop of water for a month.
As the Scofield Reservoir dries up, fish are dying in the Price River. Water managers are worried that conditions will only turn worse this winter.
"We're not in disaster conditions, but we're definitely right at the door," said Mark Page, the Utah Division of Water Rights' regional engineer in Price.
Page monitors how much water is available to Price, Helper and the Price River Water Improvement District, which provides culinary supplies to 9,000 people living outside those municipalities.
Scofield Reservoir, which supplies half of Price's and all of the water district's water, is down to 5 percent of capacity. It loses more water daily to evaporation than it receives from inflowing streams.
Releases into the Price River are small - just enough to meet the basic needs of Price, the water district and Utah Power, which uses the water in an electricity-generation plant at Castle Gate.
Still, the bottom of the reservoir is exposed.
"A week ago, there was only 2 feet of usable water in the reservoir," said water district manager Phillip Palmer. "You could use it all up, if everybody was using it, in a few weeks. But we're not going to."
To bolster reservoir supplies, the city and water district have leased water rights from farmers in the Price River Valley. That water is being stored in the reservoir to meet drinking-water needs this winter, leaving farms without irrigation water for the late summer and fall.
Lyle Bryner, president of the Price River Water Users Association, said most of the area's 150 farmers have parted with their rights this fall because "there's not enough water to do any one farm any good."
The Carbon County Commission has made it a class B misdemeanor, with a potential $1,000 fine and six months in jail, to water beyond prescribed times.