Water service from Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company will be shut off this Friday after dropping 30 inches per week during July.
The reservoir was down to 23 inches at the beginning of the week, said Gary Bevan, irrigation company president. Despite repeated efforts to issue restrictions aimed at cutting back on water use, Bevan said the reservoir has reached the minimum level the company is required by the state to maintain fish populations.
“We’re about a month ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “We never reached these levels until September last year…. Last year we didn’t shut down early. Restrictions got us through. This year we went on [restrictions], and it didn’t make any difference. It was dropping 30 inches a week before the restriction, and it kept dropping 30 inches after the restriction.
“It’s just too excessive,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of water.”
Bevan said that when the reservoir was originally built, the irrigation company received money from the state in exchange for an agreement that it would maintain 250 acre feet of water as a conservation pool for the fish in the area. The company continues to honor that agreement, Bevan said.
“It’s just a year-by-year call,” he said. “When it gets down to where it looks like it is going to harm the fish, then we have to shut it off.”
The irrigation company will close off its valves after the last turn on Friday night, cutting off water service to the company’s 870 Tooele customers. After that, Bevan said, the plan is to leave the shutdown in place for at least two weeks. If the reservoir recovers, then the company may restore water service.
However, after service is restored, Bevan said the company plans to enforce a strict, restricted watering schedule with $50 fines for those who water out of turn.
“We don’t have unlimited water,” he said. “They can’t use it like we do. I don’t know how to get that across to them.”
While the irrigation company struggles with water supplies, it is moving forward to replace an old drainage pipeline that washed out of the canyon during the floods of the 1980s. The company hopes that the restored pipeline will channel additional water into the reservoir, increasing the supply of available water.
As of this week, the irrigation company has awarded a contract for the project to Draper-based Silver Spur, Bevan said. Though the contractor has not determined when work will begin, the contract stipulates that the project must be completed in 90 days — a timeline that should have the pipe operational by the end of October.
Bevan said the company hopes the pipeline will help bring more water into the reservoir in the coming winter.
On the other side of the valley, Lynn Taylor, watermaster for Grantsville Irrigation Company, said the Grantsville Reservoir is holding up well despite this summer’s ongoing drought.
“We gave out four turns and I’m 90 percent sure that’s all there is going to be,” he said. “We’re a foot or so below last year, and that’s all we gave last year.”
Taylor said the Grantsville Irrigation Company operates on a slightly different system than the Tooele company. Instead of issuing watering schedules and restrictions, Grantsville Irrigation allots each user a certain amount of water up front, and then can grant additional portions of water as conditions permit. Other than that, he said, it’s the customer’s responsibility to decide how they want to use their water.
For those who go over their allotted portions, Taylor said the irrigation company imposes stiff fines that can double their normal water bill.
This week’s rain has been a boon for residents and gardeners, he added.
“There shouldn’t be anyone watering their lawns and gardens for the next couple of days,” he said. “We got a half inch in town yesterday, and a quarter inch the day before, so that helped quite a bit.”
While the last week’s rainfall is unusual for this time of year, the National Weather Service has not attributed the increased precipitation to El Nino. The weather service has predicted a 70–80 percent chance of an El Nino, a temperature anomaly in the Pacific Ocean that brings above-normal precipitation to the western side of North and South America, this fall. However, El Nino has yet to fully develop this year.