By Christopher Seifert
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, received a water tutorial on the arid, rocky banks of the Deer Creek Reservoir Thursday, April 4.
Matheson, a member of the House subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards requested the meeting with Utah”s leading water authorities in light of ongoing drought conditions in the state.
“We can”t solve the drought this year,” Matheson said.
“That”s not what we”re talking about. We”re talking about what we can do in terms of business and research to predict droughts and conserve water in the future.”
Keith Denos, general manager of the Provo River Water Uses Association, said the water level at Deer Creek Reservoir is already down 20 feet from its usual level and is expected to drop even more.
The reservoir”s capacity is 106,800 acre-feet, he said, but this year”s total is only expected to reach 69,700 acre-feet.
Gene Shawcroft, assistant general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservation District (CUWCD), said his organization has played a pivotal role in water conservation efforts in Utah and hopes to continue to do so in the future.
The CUWCD diverts water that would ordinarily end up in the Colorado River into the Strawberry Reservoir east of Provo, Shawcroft said.
The excess water in the Strawberry Reservoir is pumped into Utah Lake and from there can be used to supplement the water supply in surrounding areas — especially in years of drought.
“There is sufficient water to carry us through the next couple of years, but we do need rain,” Shawcroft said.
Matheson said the CUWCD has served Utah well.
“The foresight we”ve had so far has helped us get through this situation,” he said.
Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said snow pack levels in Utah are at record low levels and water runoff from melting snow has been negligible.
“When you melt half of your snow pack in a week”s time you would expect something in the creek and there”s nothing there,” he said.
Southern Utah is in a severe drought and northern Utah is abnormally dry. Relief does not appear to be on the horizon, Julander said.
“According to the tea leaves, it looks like all of summer is going to be a very dry, hot, ugly time,” he said.
David Ovard, general manager of the Jordan Valley Water Conservation District, said this year is different from previous drought years in that reservoirs are emptier.
Two-thirds of all water in Utah goes to outdoor uses such as lawn watering, Ovard said. Water districts in Utah would like to reduce that amount by half, but have yet to draft a unified plan for the public to do just that, he said.
Matheson said the public should be prepared to make sacrifices.
“We have to, as a community, be really smart about how we use water,” he said as he looked across the reservoir.
Matheson hopes to initiate a formal hearing before Congress to address the drought conditions that persist across the nation as well as possible water conservation strategies.
“People need to look out at this reservoir and see how low it is right now,” he said.