While scientists, climatologists and politicians continue to debate over whether our erratic weather patterns are the result of global warming, climate change or neither, we’ve got a challenge that has no time for senseless polemics.
Due to quickly disappearing snowpack levels, low reservoirs and a warm, dry March, it appears certain that irrigation water supplies here this summer will run short.
Just a few weeks ago, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that area watersheds appeared in good shape, in fact better than elsewhere across Utah. But then March, typically the juiciest month of the year, failed to deliver. Only a few storms dropped meager amounts of precipitation on vital watersheds that feed aquifers and reservoirs. In addition, it warmed considerably, diminishing snowpacks too soon.
As reported in last Tuesday’s Page One story, “Snowpack levels dropping quickly,” area snow courses are only at 72 percent of average. Although the county is in somewhat better shape than the rest of the state, that number is still far below what it should be for this time of year. Just a month ago, the average stood at 87 percent. Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS, outlined the scenario: “These numbers are not average. It’s pretty grim when we start looking at it. … We’re probably going to be in the 50 percent of average for runoff and it might come a little early as well. This is not a good situation to be in…”
For area farmers and ranchers, plus citizens who take great pride in lush lawns and gardens, mountain runoff at 50 percent of average is horrible news. The news is also troubling for Tooele and Grantsville cities. When irrigation supplies run low and usage restrictions are enforced, residents often turn to culinary (city) water to keep their lawns and gardens alive. As for the farmers and ranchers, the situation is even more dire.
Some could say we’ve seen all this before; a summer of drought and water restrictions is nothing new. Simply restrict irrigation and culinary water usage, and there will be plenty for all. But if one takes a look at our recent past, including the number of times water restrictions have been utilized in Tooele City, it doesn’t appear to be a matter of occasional sacrifice.
For illustration, take Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company. Over the past 10 years, according to company officials, there have been only three watering seasons during which restrictions were not needed, the last one being the summer of 2011. Of the other seven years, users had to cut back to make sure supplies lasted until fall.
Although this week’s weather has dropped generous amounts of precipitation, and the valley and lower mountain slopes have responded with resplendent green, it’s not enough. Even more worrisome, the county’s three principal reservoirs — Settlement, Grantsville and Vernon — are currently at levels well below where they should be prior to runoff season.
Here in Tooele County, we don’t need proof of retreating glaciers in Alaska to convince us the climate isn’t what it used to be. The proof is all around us. With that in mind, we should brace for yet another summer of limited water. Regrettably yet necessarily, frugal water usage should already be at the core of everyone’s farming or gardening plans.