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 from the state water districts. This week we thank Todd Stonely of the UDWR.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – When Utah residents want water, they typically turn on a tap, pick up a hose or press a dispenser button. The water is just there. Clear and clean and readily available. The water has to come from somewhere, but where? Answers vary from: “Underground tanks,” “Pipes,” “The city,” and “Mystical Powers.”
The truth of the matter is water has a long journey from the mountains and reservoirs before it ever reaches our homes and yards. Utah residents need to understand water sources and the movement of water before they ever take the first step to conserve the water they use.
Utah has seen a record-setting year for precipitation in the mountainous regions but ultimately water sources like reservoirs and streams can only hold so much and seasons can change rapidly and drought conditions can return.
“While Utah enjoyed a wet winter, we must remain vigilant about the potential return of drought conditions in the coming months and years. Our mountains provide essential snowpack, but it’s essential to recognize that the transition from a wet season to drought can happen rapidly,” says Todd Stonely, Assistant Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “Water conservation and efficient use are essential practices that will help us extend the benefits of the wet winter and ensure a more resilient water supply for all regions.”
So what are Utah’s water supply sources and what does that mean for residents?
Water supply has to be looked at on a regional level. By understanding the challenges each source faces we can make better decisions that will safeguard our water supply for future generations.
“Water is not just a statewide resource; it’s inherently regional” Stonely reminds residents. “Whether it’s the Virgin River Basin serving Washington County or any other basin, we rely on the water available in various watersheds to sustain communities in those watersheds. By raising awareness about the water issues facing our watersheds, we hope to encourage individual responsibility and promote a collective effort towards water-wise practices.”
Utah’s water supply is managed by the state’s 11 river basins, with each serving as a primary water source for specific areas. Understanding the concept of each of these watersheds is the key to understanding supply. Each watershed, or basin, has its own unique plan that informs water-related planning and management. These plans can be viewed in detail at the Utah Division of Water Resources’ River Basis Plan website.
The plans seek to foster a sense of responsibility and empower individuals to contribute to water conservation efforts. This also reminds Utahns that actions taken in one region can have little impact on water availability in other areas; what works in Washington County may not work in Salt Lake County.
Once residents understand where the water sources are for their areas they then have to understand a few things about those sources. Not all water is created equal. While some are suitable for irrigation, such as Utah Lake, they may not meet the standards for drinking water. It is essential to manage and treat water accordingly to ensure a safe and sustainable drinking water supply for communities.
If the water source for an area can not effectively be treated for the needs of its region then the water has to come from another source. Which then requires moving that water. Moving and treating water requires significant energy expenditure. In fact, approximately 7% of Utah’s energy consumption is dedicated to water transportation and treatment. And while that number is not as significant as in other states it does have a cost.
Fortunately, water movement in Utah is mostly reliant on gravity and confined to existing water basins. Expanding beyond these basins through pumping would be cost-prohibitive and environmentally unsustainable.
Building new reservoirs can also be a costly and often not a feasible solution. There are limitations on the number and locations of reservoirs a river system can support and environmental considerations must be taken into account.
With these limitations in mind, we must then turn to sustainable water management and conservation efforts.
Doing our part:
Utahns are reminded that water conservation is not an all-or-nothing concept.
Websites like slowtheflow.org have conservation tips to help residents start where it counts – in their homes.
Classes and education obtained from local water conservancy districts can be invaluable to Utah residents. Starting small and working on one effort at a time.
Check out your local conservancy district websites as well as public utility resources to find out what is available in your area.