Water supply: good and bad news
It's hard to know whether having a lot of something in the bag or in the bush is better at times.
That is the problem confronting not only water officials in Carbon County, but also residents, farmers and industrial users.
Right now the snowpack in the Price & San Rafael Basins is below average at 88 percent of normal, compared to 66 percent last year based on Snotel measurements.
Yes, but reservoir storage at Scofield last year at this time was at about 48 percent while this year it is at about 28 percent.
The problem is that measurements of moisture or snowpack can vary greatly in the same area.
"There may be 86 percent of snowpack where Snotel measures," said Jeff Richens, the general manager of the Price Water Improvement District. "But it may not be that basin wide."
The real problem is that as the year wears on, moisture accumulation in both rain and snow are down and long term that can be real trouble. Reservoirs are not only built to give a steady supply of water all year round, but also to get geographical areas through years of drought. But this second purpose only works to the point where water is available. At some time, the water in a reservoir needs to be replenished fully so that the drag from year to year doesn't accumulate.
According to the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service), precipitation in March was below average at 87 in the area, which brings the seasonal accumulation (Oct-Mar) to 91 percent of average. Promising yes; getting the area out of the water woods, not necessarily.
But there is other good news too. The soil moisture as of April 1 was at 63 percent compared to 57 percent last year. This is a bit of a surprise to many because much of the ground in the area never really got covered with much snow this year, something that insulates the water that fell last fall from being pulled out of the ground.
If one looks past Scofield, however, things really are much better than last year as far as reservoir storage goes. Overall for the area the storage is at 45 percent of capacity, compared to 48 percent last year, but most of the other reservoirs in the area (such as Millsite, Huntington North, Cleveland) have more water in them than last year, with some having a lot. Joe's Valley is slightly behind last year.
In many places the snow has melted at lower altitudes than it normally does this time of year. Some of the higher altitudes are seeing melting now, places where the melting usually doesn't really start until next month. That means high water flow will be down overall and much earlier too. The forecast streamflow volumes range from 58 percent in the area to 113 percent of average. The surface water supply index is 20 percent for the Price River, 37 percent for Joe's Valley and 47 percent for Ferron Creek.
The storage for water in most of Utah really comes from the snow in the mountains, not from the reservoirs. So in northern Utah most areas are in pretty good shape. And while east central Utah is down, it is much worse in southwestern Utah where the Virgin River basin is almost as dry as anyone has ever seen it.
However there is a lot people can do about conserving water, which is the key in drought years and should be a regular practice in even wet years.
"Fixed rationing or restrictions doesn't work very well," said Richens. "If you give a person a time period in which they can water they will take every minute of it. There are better ways."
Richens said that PRWID and in fact all water utilities I the area are asking people to do certain things, really things that he says make sense.
" We ask that people be smart about watering," said Richens. "Only put the water where it needs to go. Don't water streets and sidewalks. Check your sprinklers to be sure they are adjusted correctly. And don't water in the heat of the day."
It is a proven fact that if water is applied to a lawn between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a warm day almost as much water is lost as is absorbed.
Richens asks people to just water when they need to and to even cut down some of what they need to water this year, such as reducing a garden space for this season.
In most dry years PRWID keeps all its water shares for itself and does not lease out any. However this year they will be leasing out 400 of their own shares and 219 Helper shares as well. Those shares will be awarded in lots of up to 10 and there will be a drawing at the first of May for those that will receive their use.
"We will lease up to 10 shares per person, but they must come into the PRWID office (265 South Fairgrounds Road) to apply for the drawing," stated Richens. "In person registration for the drawing is mandatory. The cost will be $25 per share. No one has to take 10 shares, they can apply even for one or two."
Richens said that it appears the delivery of water on shares this year will be about 50 percent of normal.