is Utah running out of water? Latest forecast won’t help water supply

The Utah Legislature has buckets and buckets of water bills considering various water conservation strategies, including how water is metered and used and whether municipalities should incorporate l use of water in their general plans.

There is also growing anti-territory sentiment on Capitol Hill with the successful passage in the House of a measure to restrict how much turf a new state government building can have on its property and how much water savings to be demonstrated over time.

Rep. Robert Spendlove’s bill, R-Sandy, HB121, passed 65-8 and is in the Senate under consideration.

It looks like lawmakers and water districts will have to have all sorts of options at their disposal given the sad news from a Tuesday briefing on water supply, what it looks like in the future and if storms are on the horizon for Utah.

“It’s about as bad as it gets over a 30-day period,” said Glen Merrill, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, reflecting on the past few weeks of extremely dry weather and above-average temperatures. .

Monthly briefings bring together federal hydrology, flow and reservoir experts, and local water districts to examine the current conditions they must survive in and what lies ahead.

While there may be some small storm activity next week, Merrill stressed that the events are “not a game-changer.”

Reservoirs are at just 50% capacity statewide on average, and low-lying sites are losing their snowpack.

Gary Henrie, an engineer with the US Bureau of Reclamation, said Red Fleet, Joe’s Valley and Lake Powell are below 30-year lows and Pineview in Weber County is at 20-year lows.

“We need snow.

The March-May forecast doesn’t provide better news, with modeling showing that Utah is likely to be in a similar mode with above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

“It’s going to play out in the spring,” Merrill warned. “It’s just not very pretty from my point of view.”

Everyone agrees that 2021 was lousy. Very ugly.

Governor Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency in mid-March and appealed for conservation.

A badge of pride meant sporting a yellow lawn about to look dead.

In December, Cox announced his budget priorities, including $500 million for water conservation measures. Much of this money is spent on implementing secondary water metering, which state leaders say could be the most effective tool for saving water.

One measure being considered is a phased approach requiring secondary water suppliers to have secondary meters installed for pressurized systems. Sponsored by Representative Val Peterson, R-Orem, HB242 comes with high spending, tapping into federal relief programs. A subsidy system would help cover the costs of systems that convert to metering.

Peterson stressed how “every drop of water matters” as the West battles a historic drought. Secondary water metering is one of the easiest ways to save money, he told a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Communities that meter their secondary water see a 40% reduction in usage, Peterson said. If the entire state conserved water at this rate, “the equivalent of a Jordanelle reservoir could be saved.” Under the bill, new commercial, industrial, institutional and residential users would begin metering their secondary water starting in May, and by 2030 secondary water providers would be required to install and maintain a meter for each secondary water user.

The bill is backed by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which would cover 70% of the cost of installing a meter for the first two years. After 2023, reimbursement would decrease on an annual basis, which Peterson says will prompt users and providers to act quickly. According to the bill, there are 221,000 unmetered secondary water connections in Utah — Peterson says it will cost about $386 million to meter those connections by 2030.

The proposal is not without controversy. Several lawmakers worried that the bill would impose something their communities are already doing, or that installing the meters would impose a financial burden on their constituents.

“They’re expensive,” said Christine Watkins, R-Price, who voted against the bill. “We have neighbors who have moved in and they are still waiting to find enough money to buy this meter.”

Rodney Hill, who spoke on behalf of Haights Creek Irrigation Company in Kaysville, echoed Watkins’ sentiment during the public comment period.

“Where does the 30% come from? he asked, referring to the amount not covered by the federal grant. “Thirty percent come from each of these people. It’s $2.4 million that these people have to find in less than seven years.

Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, acknowledged that secondary metering can be a tricky subject. He pointed to several districts and water users who were “uncomfortable” with some of the bill’s provisions. But he and Peterson said it was one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to immediately conserve water.

“Over the past year and a half, I’ve done very little but worry about water as the state has grown and supplies have dwindled. We’re in a very uncomfortable position where we expect increased growth and we don’t expect increased water levels,” Steed said.

“Honestly, I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

The bill was eventually withdrawn from committee, passing with a 9-7 nod.

Some of that conservation money is also earmarked to develop a first aid plan for the beleaguered Great Salt Lake, which hit an all-time low last October. Scientists fear forecasts of abyssal rainfall, which could be repeated this year.

With Utah’s runaway population growth and relentless demand for more housing, Cox stressed that the need to couple municipal growth with available water supply is paramount.

A measure by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, would tackle this problem. SB110 addresses these considerations for cities, exempting smaller areas.

Yet tagging a bill that deals with water in times of drought does not guarantee safe navigation to the passage.

Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, saw her HB115 suffer a defeat in the House in a 41-34 vote after some rural lawmakers questioned the ability of small districts to comply with water loss audit requirements and also complained that it was too vague. The bill called for monitoring the efficiency of water distribution.

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