This story is part of our Be Water Wise series. Each week we will be educating Utahns on water usage and conservation. Special thanks to The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and Cynthia Bee for helping coordinate information.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – They may not celebrate with Champagne toasts and fireworks, but the Jordan Water Conservancy is celebrating a new year — Happy Water New Year.
Looking back on the old year, water agencies are reporting banner years- good and bad. Record temperatures to close out the Summer of 2022 left Utah in a precarious water position with aquifers in need of replenishment, then Utah proceeded to have the best statewide snowpack ever recorded.
“The ‘Hail Mary’ pass that saved us this past winter was a miracle play in the fourth quarter of the larger game — not a water planning strategy,” said Cynthia Bee, with the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re thankful for the year we had but cannot plan our future supply based on the rare event.”
The district reminds all of Utah that even in the shadow of such a great water year, we still must be conservative in our water usage. It doesn’t take long to use up stored water if Utah sees harsh conditions over the next year.
There may still be nearly three months until Father Time hands off the baton to Baby New Year, but the new water year is officially underway. The kickoff for the new year is the end of irrigation season for most agencies, some go with the change of physical seasons. Either way, they are all within weeks of each other and the new year begins during the month of October.
“Jordan Valley Water aligns with other local water agencies in using a water year that begins Nov. 1 and ends Oct. 31,” explains Wade Tuft, Water Supply Manager for the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “Most irrigation seasons don’t end until October so water deliveries are still being made. From an accounting standpoint, it makes more sense to begin building the new year supply after irrigation deliveries are completed for the year.”
No matter what date is chosen, there are always key factors that water agencies look at to determine the new water year: soil moisture, precipitation, and water supply impact.
Soil moisture is already very high for this year. When taken into consideration with reservoir storage, currently at 80-85% full, we are in good shape for the accumulation season.
Soil moisture also helps with supply to reservoirs and streams and even helps get water back to the Great Salt Lake. Once the soil has absorbed all the water it can hold, the excess runs off the surface and travels downhill to streams and eventually reservoirs.
Once the soil is saturated, a greater percentage of the snow melt will run off into the streams and reservoirs. Having a wet fall is key to setting up the spring runoff. Once the ground freezes in early winter, it will not absorb more moisture until it thaws. That means the level of moisture in the soil at that time determines how much moisture will be absorbed in place before runoff begins, regardless of the volume of snow received.
While snowpack is the most important factor overall, precipitation still plays an important role.
“The rain we’ve received so far in October is helping the soil moisture profile to optimize the runoff and can help our water supply by decreasing demand,” said Tuft. “But, only if we respond to rain events by turning off our sprinkler systems.”
Water managers are quick to point out that Mother Nature will provide for the minimal water landscapes needed in October and encourage all water users to turn off and winterize landscape sprinkler systems the first week of October.
Water Supply Impact
The impact of water supply flows across the board; water used by the state itself and water used by individuals. 87% of precipitation we receive through rain and snow stays in the environment. Not all of the 13% that can be collected for potential human use can be used for drinking purposes, so some portions of that go back into storage systems.
“Everyone is hoping that 2024 will provide another banner water year. While our reservoirs and water storage are in great shape, having more water means more choices about how it’s used,” reminds Wade Tuft. “Including forwarding potential water supply to benefit the Great Salt Lake.”
Understanding and celebrating water use and conservation is a great way to start off a new water year. Setting goals to take advantage of education and incentives to Be Water Wise is a goal that Utahns can find tons of support to make sure your New (Water) Year’s Resolutions are met.