Despite a year of bipolar weather that was alternately wet or dry for weeks on end, Tooele County finished a third year of continued drought in 2013.
Tooele began the year with above-average snowpack and lead the state for snow for the first several months, even as snow levels began to decline as early as February. By March, an early snowmelt had snow survey supervisor Randy Julander predicting decreased summer water supplies.
“It’s pretty grim when we start looking at it,” Julander said in early April. “The bottom line is that we didn’t get hardly any snowpack increase in March. …This is not a good situation to be in and is certainly not what we wanted.”
However, April turned out cold and wet, ultimately increasing water supplies and delaying the start of the irrigation season by nearly three weeks.
The storms continued well into May, but total precipitation for the month remained below normal and local reservoirs started the summer season far below normal levels.
The drought took a turn for the worse in June. With summer in full swing, Tooele City and many of the surrounding areas registered zero precipitation, causing the National Weather Service to upgrade drought declarations in portions of the county to the severe level.
Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company issued water use restrictions in July, but levels continued to drop rapidly until, in August, the reservoir lost 30 inches of water in a single week.
“It’s just been one long, hot summer, and I don’t think people believe we are in a drought,” Gary Bevan, Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company president, said in early September. “They just keep using water like there’s no end.”
The Grantsville Irrigation Company, which has installed water meters for all users, was able to fill all promised water shares, but did not issue any additional shares to users.
If water users continued to ignore restrictions, Bevan predicted that the reservoir would run dry by the end of the season. However, temperatures soon fell and precipitation returned, extending local water supplies through the end of the season. Tooele ended the water year on Sept. 30 with a total of 20.23 inches of rain and snowmelt, just slightly more than the area’s 19.76-inch average.
After a dry November, snowpack is off to a good start for next year, but the central part of the county, including the Great Salt Lake Desert, continues to experience severe drought conditions.
Though most local farmers reported adequate harvests this year, the water shortage hurt agricultural endeavors in the area by driving up feed prices. The average price for a ton of alfalfa neared $200 in July, with some growers asking for as much as $220 a ton.
To alleviate ongoing water shortages at Settlement Canyon Reservoir, Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company began the process of building a new pipeline that would bring additional water to the reservoir.
According to Bevan, a 20-inch steel pipeline once brought water from Sawmill Flats to the reservoir before the 1980s, when flooding washed out the pipeline. Those same floods washed out a second pipeline at the same time, and the irrigation company only had the funds to replace one of them at the time, he said. Reconstructing the pipeline would cost an estimated $1.06 million.
A majority of shareholders in the company voted on May 21 to approve the project, but the company’s largest single shareholder, Tooele City, voted against the plan.
Utah’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund will provide the majority of the funding for the project.
However, the company had trouble acquiring easements from two property owners on the proposed pipeline route, which delayed the pipeline project. The delay pushed the project late into the season; consequently, the company decided in October to postpone further work on the pipeline until 2014.