ST. GEORGE — As fall gives way to the coming winter, water managers with the Utah Department of Natural Resources are paying close attention to statewide conditions with cautious optimism while continuing to advise conservation.
As of Friday, Dec 1, the state’s snow water equivalent, a critical metric for assessing water availability, currently stands at 39% below normal for this time of year. With 125 days remaining until the typical peak snowpack, water managers remain optimistic about the potential for a good snow year.
If winter rain and snow fails to materialize however, the state is still in a good position due reservoir storage that is currently at 77% capacity statewide. This is around 20% higher than normal reservoir levels for this time of year.
“While we still have a good amount of water in our reservoirs, we must continue to conserve,” Joel Williams, deputy director of the Division of Water Resources, said in a news release. “The water year is off to a slow start, but it’s still early. From now until April will be pivotal in determining the overall water outlook for the state.”
Staff at Washington County Water Conservancy District reported Friday that the county’s reservoirs are higher than average for this time of year. Heavy snowpack and a mild spring helped refill the reservoirs, while also keeping overall demand down.
“We filled our local reservoirs this spring thanks to a tremendous snowpack,” Karry Rathje, communications and government affairs manager for the water district, told St. George News. “Our spring was fairly mild so our water demand was lower than average, keeping that water stored in our reservoirs … Reservoirs are critical to our community, allowing us to store water in wet years for use in dry years.”
However, both Williams and Rathje stress the need for continued water conservation, especially if the coming winter proves lacking in snowpack production.
“While we still have a good amount of water in our reservoirs, we must continue to conserve,” Williams said.
“We never know what’s in store for the future so using our water efficiently is an ongoing priority in our desert community,” Rathje said, and highlighted the amount of water saved by the county residents over the last year.
“We’ve produced 1.2 billion gallons less in 2023, compared to 2022, even though we’ve added more than 3,000 new connections,” she head. “We are using less waters.”
Coming rain and snowfall — or lack thereof — will also determine the level of drought in the state. At this time last year, over 90% of Utah was in a state of severe drought compared to the current date’s moderate drought level of 9%.
State water managers urge residents to continue water conservation efforts despite promising water levels — as the unpredictability of the weather necessitates a proactive approach to water stewardship.
“Now is an excellent time to maximize water efficiency by checking for leaks and upgrading old fixtures with water-efficient ones,” the news release stated.
Locals programs and initiatives are also promoted by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. Among the more notable of the current programs is the lawn rebate program that pays $2 per square foot of lawn that a property owner replaces with water-wise landscaping.
Since the program’s roll out in December 2022, rebates of topped over $1 million with over 800,000 square feet of grass replaced with xeriscape.
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