Another drought summer in Utah: How BYU is conserving water this year

Some plants on the BYU campus are turning yellow due to lack of water. Almost all of Utah is currently in an extreme drought. (Abigail Gunderson)

In his monthly news conference April 21 Gov. Spencer Cox declared a 30-day state of emergency in response to the severe drought impacting most of the state. After a few spring storms in the end of April and this past week, Cox said the rain is helpful, but “unfortunately it’s not enough to get us out of the drought right now.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought is a problem for most of the western united states this year. Much of California is in extreme drought, and the California wildfire preparedness website said “wildfires aren’t a question of if, but only a question of when.” Last fall the federal government declared a water shortage on the Colorado river for the first time ever.

In Utah, a dry winter is shaping up to be a big problem. Around 95% of Utah’s water supply comes from snowpack, but this year the snowpack peaked two weeks earlier than usual at a 25% lower capacity.

Cox said the water reservoir storage in Utah is at about 59% capacity. He said his emergency declaration “will allow the state to use any and all state resources we need to cope with the drought.”

Cox and other state agencies have published two chapters of a four chapter plan for water usage in Utah. The chapter released on April 27 is a plan to help Utah’s communities flourish by using water wisely.

“Just as we owe much of our prosperity to the investments and efforts of past generations,” the introduction reads, “proactive planning and strategic investments will allow us to prepare for growth.”

The most recent chapter outlines how Utahns can conserve water, keeping the supply available for themselves and accommodating the growing population.

BYU’s water conservation

With a campus in the middle of the desert, BYU has developed award-winning landscaping for its aesthetics and water conservation. BYU’s sustainability webpage says, “water conservation is a significant component of our sustainability agenda as we are located in the Intermountain West, where water availability and management is a serious concern.”

A sprinkler in one of BYU’s plant beds. BYU’s sprinkler systems use non-drinkable water to water plants. (Abigail Gunderson)

Sprinklers use ground source water or water from a secondary source such as laundry and bathroom runoff and rain water. Since this water isn’t safe to drink, recycling it for irrigation minimizes waste. Sprinklers are placed strategically for maximum efficiency, and BYU grounds conducts “water audits” to reevaluate sprinkler models and placement.

A group of sprinklers near the Life Sciences Building. Sprinklers on campus are strategically placed to minimize water waste. (Abigail Gunderson)

BYU grounds also chooses low maintenance plants that can survive without much water, keeping the campus looking nice even in a drought. Many of the plants are native to Utah and thrive in low-water environments.

A plant bed outside the Brimhall Building. Many of BYU’s plants were chosen for their ability to thrive without much water. (Abigail Gunderson)

BYU has “reduced the water usage from faucets and flush valves by 50% “with high-efficiency appliances in restrooms and kitchens. The Commons at the Cannon Center uses dishwashers that reuse water from earlier cycles in the first few rinse cycles of the next washing.

Cox asked Utahns to look for ways to reduce water usage in their homes, farms and institutions. “Last year Utahns did just that, saving billions of gallons and we can do it again,” he said.

For information and suggestions on conserving water, visit

A sprinkler near the Life Sciences Building. BYU installed high efficiency plumbing and irrigation systems to save water. (Abigail Gunderson)
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