There is very little good news to be had for water users in northern Utah being served by the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

The district, which is the wholesale water supplier for Weber, Davis, Morgan, Summit and parts of Box Elder County, is enacting tough restrictions to keep enough drinking water in its system.

Among the steps:

  • Reduction of secondary water deliveries by 60%.
  • Reduction of culinary water deliveries by 10%.
  • Once a week outdoor watering.
  • A delay in the activation of the secondary water system by one month.
  • Agricultural contracts shaved by 40%.

In addition, the district’s board of trustees considered prohibiting all new landscaping but backed off that decision, instead stressing that anyone who installs new landscaping must adhere to the restrictions.

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These restrictions, already under consideration, were put into effect this week after the district saw its snowpack dwindle from 80% of normal down to 65% of normal in a matter of days due to the hot spell late last month.

Scott Paxman, general manager of the district, said basin wide there is normally 220,000 acre-feet of water that comes off the mountains during spring runoff for storage, but this year it’s projected to receive about 10,000 acre-feet for storage.

This is the third consecutive year the district has endured those low numbers, receiving less than 10% of the volume of runoff to keep in reservoirs.

“We’re in a world of hurt,” Paxman said. “I don’t think any of our reservoirs will come close to filling, and Echo has got to fill before the basin gets any storage water.”

Echo, East Canyon and Pineview reservoirs have senior water rights on the Weber and Ogden rivers, meaning they get the first drink at the tap before Weber Basin can get water for its system’s storage.

Reservoirs sit on average at 30% capacity in the district and with the runoff will roughly provide half the drinking water supplies at the end of the water year. Paxman said the rest will be made up by groundwater.

“We can provide most of the rest of the half by pumping our wells harder,” he said. “But even that is concerning to us because this is the fourth year in a row where we’ve really pumped our wells, and we worry about a significant drawdown.”

Justin Byington and Dave Eiriksson, both hydrologists for the Utah Snow Survey, demonstrate how they take snow core samples during a media tour of the Utah Snow Survey’s Powder Mountain SNOTEL Site at the ski resort in Eden on Thursday, March 24, 2022. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

A neighborly arrangement

One lifeline the district was able to secure — for the first time in its 72 year history — is the purchase of water off the Provo River from the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

Normally, the Provo River system takes quite a bit of water off the Weber River via the Weber-Provo Diversion Canal.

Paxman said the Provo River is in pretty good shape.

“It’s complicated, but in essence we’ve purchased 14,000 acre-feet from Central Utah to keep the water on our side,” he said, adding that the arrangement was made with the Central Utah district being able to ensure that users who normally use that water are kept “whole.”

Friday marked the “official” end of the snowpack accumulation season, and while spring snowstorms obviously can still happen, the last several years they have not contributed significantly to the snowpack.

“We have not seen really significant spring snow in quite awhile, but in certain areas of the state we could get a boost for sure,” said Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey within the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Paxman said he is hoping for a spring like 2015, when it rained practically all the time into June.

That type of weather would deliver much relief, but the extended forecast calls for drier than normal and warmer than normal weather for the next several months.

In a water summit held earlier this week, Bob Thompson, Salt Lake County’s watershed section manager, described the challenges that region is facing.

“We have a lot of places to put water, but there’s not that much out there. So our reservoir storage, with the exception of Deer Creek, is looking pretty bleak.”

The Provo Utah Lake Jordan basin is not faring much better than its neighbor to the north, sitting at just 71% of normal for snowpack.

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While Salt Lake County is not a water provider, it did set a goal of shaving its own water use by 5% last year and actually achieved a 13% countywide reduction in consumption, with 75% coming from parks and recreation, according to Lisa Hartman, the associate deputy mayor.

The diminishing snowpack in Big Cottonwood Canyon is pictured on Friday, April 1, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The county plans to actively work with its parks and recreation department again this year to curtail water where it can this year in “passive” spots at parks and golf courses where green turf is not necessary.

Statewide, the average snowpack sits at 74% of normal, Clayton said.

District managers like Paxman are hoping new landscaping is devoid of any turf this year because of the unprecedented conditions.

In an effort to cut back on wasteful water use, Utah lawmakers approved the first statewide turf buyback program in the country, providing $5 million in incentives to residents who want to voluntarily rip out their park strip grass and replace it with water-wise landscaping.

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It was a number of measures passed in the Utah Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox to address the megadrought gripping the state.

The majority of the state continues to be in severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.