ST. GEORGE — Snow on Pine Valley Mountain is a welcome sight for Washington County water managers following one of the region’s worst drought years on record. While drought conditions have eased somewhat, water managers still urge conservation.
Rain events have made local water officials optimistic for the area’s water needs, at least for the short term.
“On the short term, these events have been wonderful,” Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District said Thursday.
Southwestern Utah started this year with over 200% of normal snowpack. That has since gone down to 177% of normal as of Friday as temperatures gradually rise.
The storms have helped put moisture into the soil and that ultimately helps keep melting snow from soaking into the ground before it reaches the Virgin River. The soil moisture is currently around 113% of normal, Renstrom said, which is a far cry from last winter when extremely dry ground soaked up snow run off like a sponge.
Storms across the state have brought a measure of drought relief as no part of Utah is currently listed in the “exceptional” drought category, the highest level of drought listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. However, large parts of the state remain in the “severe” and “extreme” categories.
As of the first week of January, Washington County sits in the “moderate” drought category. While this pleases local water managers, if there aren’t any more storms, drought conditions could worsen yet again.
“Even though we’re in a good position now, if we don’t get a couple of good storms this spring, then we could possibly go back to (worse) drought conditions,” Renstrom said.
It’s best for people to adopt water conservation measures now and continue on with them even when the water situation looks better, Renstrom said. That way, when drought conditions get worse, people will already be doing their part to conserve water, he said.
“We know for a fact its only a matter of time before we go into another drought cycle,” Renstrom said.
Renstrom said he was encouraged by county residents’ response to saving water over the last year as drought conditions become among the worst in state history.
After reviewing its numbers for 2021, water managers discovered that county residents have managed to save an estimated 400 million gallons of water less in 2021 as compared to 2020. A majority of the water saved came from St. George.
“It was really neat to see how our citizens responded to the last drought,” Renstrom said. “That’s a lot of water.”
As the water district moves into the new year, Karry Rathje, the district’s spokeswoman, said the district “remains laser-focused on conservation.”
Work between the water district and local municipalities continues on creating uniform water conservation-related ordinances discussed during a recent water summit. The water district has also drafted a water conservation plan, and is on the path to implement an excess water use surcharge for potential water wasters.
The water district is also involved in the creation of new reservoirs, such as the Toquer and Dry Wash reservoirs, and the building of a three million gallon water tank.
“We’re feel confident coming into this next year that we’ll be able to recharge our reservoirs, and possibly even refill our reservoirs,” Renstrom said.
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