BOUNTIFUL – Last weekend’s Winter Storm Gandolf gave the Wasatch Front a needed infusion of moisture, but it won’t be enough to make up for more than a year of drought.
Tage Flint, general manager of Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said that it would take an average-sized snowstorm every three to four days to ensure average water levels for this time of year. As of Jan. 8, the district’s water level was only 78 percent of what it should be for this time of year.
“Two years ago, we were flooding every creek we had,” said Flint, who spoke recently to the Bountiful Rotary. “Now we can’t fill a reservoir to save our bacon.”
The drought, which has impacted the entire country since late 2011, is only adding to the district’s water supply concerns. The more long-term issue is northern Utah’s growing population, which according to Flint is expected to double by 2030. The district’s water supply won’t be able to keep up.
“Even if we do everything else we can, we’ll still need more water by 2030,” he said. “If not, we’ll be facing shortages.”
In preparation for that, the district is already drawing up plans to use the water from Bear River. District officials are putting together a list of possible reservoir sites coming off the river, which they will then winnow down until they’ve identified only the most practical locations.
The plans, however, are highly controversial. Using Bear River water would affect the wildlife in Farmington Bay and other areas of the state, and environmentalists have protested diverting the water into reservoirs.
“We’ll only approach Bear River when all of our other options are exhausted,” said Flint. “But our options are either to divert it or build the next Bountiful in west Cache County.”
Until then, however, Flint emphasized that conservation was key to keeping water supplies steady. The district started pushing conservancy in 2000, and by 2010 district residents were using 21.3 percent less water.
“People are doing much better with water usage,” he said. “But we’re going to have to conserve even more to meet growth, and we’re not terribly good at that.”
One measure the district is taking to encourage conservation is secondary water metering. Flint said that everyone in the district will have their secondary water use watched by meters in the next few years, and that people would be fined for overuse.
“In Utah, we actually lose more plants to overwatering than to underwatering,” said Flint.
The district also hopes to increase conservation through education. Weber Basin has a conservation learning garden located at 2837 East Highway 193 in Layton. The garden, which is free, shows examples of yards and gardens that don’t use too much water.
“They’re not desert landscapes with cactus and gravel,” he said. “We want you to stay green and lush, but we also want you to be smart about what plants you use and how you water.”
For more information about the district and learning garden, visit weberbasin.com.