When it comes to water availability in Tooele County, especially irrigation water for agricultural and residential use, what a difference a year or two can make.
Just a year ago, all of Tooele County was in the grips of a D2 or “severe drought,” according to the National Weather Service’s U.S. Drought Monitor, and had the unwanted title of being the worst drought-stricken county in the state. Along with that title were a series of drought disaster designations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2013 thru 2015.
The dry-as-a-bone moniker continued well into last year, even though Tooele City’s precipitation water-year level by the end of April 2016 was 12.53 inches — slightly ahead of a normal 12.19 inches.
Contributing to the persistent drought status were parched soil profiles caused by successive years of hyper dry conditions, the worst of which was the winter of 2014-15. By the end of April 2015, local mountains had no reportable snowpack at snow/water measuring stations, Tooele City’s total precipitation was over six inches behind normal, and the county’s dryness level was at D3 (extreme drought) by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Understandably, water restrictions were immediately enforced when Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company turned water into its delivery system in May 2015 — nearly one month later than usual. Tooele City also continued its annual summer water restriction schedule to preserve available city water supplies and keep residents consistent with year-to-year conservation practices.
But here we are two years later, and things have markedly changed. Although the first month of the 2016-17 water year, which began Oct. 1, ended in the red, a series of storms in November began to pile deep snowpack onto local mountains and drench Tooele City with above normal precipitation.
The good weather energy continued December through this spring. Things were so wet, by the second week of March the U.S. Drought Monitor dropped Tooele County from its drought radar. And at the end of April, Tooele City’s precipitation level for the water year stood at 30 percent above normal at 16.39 inches. With one week to go before Memorial Day, snowpack remains in local mountains and the county’s three reservoirs are to the brim simultaneously for the first time in years.
Tooele County’s distinction as being the worst drought-hit area in the state, with consecutive federal disaster declarations for agriculture, is apparently over. With the welcome abundance of moisture, it appears everyone can indulge in unrestricted irrigation water use this summer.
But how long will it last?
With that question in mind, everyone is urged to remember that Tooele County is mostly a desert area in which limited rain and snowfall are often the norm, not the exception. Extended periods of dryness or drought — not excess moisture — are likely to occur again.
Which is why local efforts to educate and encourage frugal water use shouldn’t be shelved, or even worse, forgotten just because everything now is green and lush, and there’s still snowpack in the mountains. Local officials and residents are reminded that, when it comes to water availability in Tooele County, there are times of brief abundance often dominated by prolonged scarcity. Careful stewardship of local water resources should always be a priority concern.