Even with a big storm Utah’s snow pack levels remain low

A snowy Wednesday morning commute at the 400 South block of 500 East.  Photo by Isaac Riddle.
A snowy Wednesday morning commute at the 400 South block of 500 East. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

Until Wednesday, the Wasatch Front’s 2014-2015 winter season was the driest on record; it is now the second driest.  Wednesday’s spring snow storm brought six inches of snow to the Salt Lake City International Airport, more snow than in the last three months combined.

The surprise storm arrived just days after both Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issues press releases urging water conservation as Utah enters into an expected dry spring and summer.

“With the dry winter we had we all need to do our part to conserve,” said Gov. Herbert in a press release. “We need to be in conservation mode, but not crisis mode.”

Even with Wednesday’s storm, the mountain snow pack totals along the Wasatch Front and statewide, are still significantly below average.  The snow pack totals for the Bear, Weber and Provo river basins were at a combined average of 34.7 percent of normal as of 11:19 Wednesday night.  The statewide totals were at 33 percent of normal.

On Monday, Mayor Becker declared a Stage 1 Advisory under the Salt Lake City Water Shortage Contingency Plan.  The advisory calls for residents to be more conscientious of their water usage and to conserve where possible.

“This careful water management approach is part of our overall efforts to adapt to, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change that are already upon us,” said Mayor Becker in a press release. “Conservation, efficiency and sustainability guide how we approach all our goals for the City and I hope residents will join us in this effort.”

The Water Shortage Contingency Plan provides recommendations for reducing water demand based on five water shortage stages, determined by current and projected water supply levels.

Unlike Mayor Becker, Gov. Herbet did not mention climate change in his call for water conservation.

Utah is dependent upon snow pack and spring run off for its yearly water supply.  A 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) found that snow pack and streamflow amounts in Utah are expected to continue to decline as temperatures rise from climate change.

Reservoir planning and a wetter than usual summer in 2014 means that Utah can survive this water year with some proactive conservation.

Utah can look to California to see the consequences of unmitigated water usage.  California is experiencing its worst drought in modern history.  In response to the state’s four-year drought, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order mandating a 25 percent reduction in water use among the state’s local water agencies.

Utah still has time to find alternative ways to ensure the state has long-term access to clean water.  But as the state is projected to get drier, the demand for water will increase as the population grows.  Utah’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050.

“Moving forward, we should be open to new ideas and solutions. Innovation is a Utah value, and it is the key to ensuring our state’s water future,” said Gov. Herbert.

Salt Lake City Public Utilities suggests the following recommendations for using less water:
· Adjust sprinkler controllers to reflect the season and weather.
· Check sprinkler systems for broken or misaligned spray heads.
· Check indoor faucets and fixtures for leaks and repair promptly.
· Sign up for a free sprinkler check by calling 1-877-728-3420.
· Visit http://slcgardenwise.com/ for water-saving tips and landscape information.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.