The Utah Department of National resources weekly update reported that most of the state downgraded from exceptional drought — the most urgent category of drought that can lead to widespread crop losses, fire risk and water shortages — to extreme drought conditions which is the second highest level of drought.
In Cedar City, Utah, the conditions of drought are currently severe, which mostly leads to water shortages, crop losses and water restrictions.
This downgrade was due to an abundance of snowfall in November which accounted for 95% of Utah’s water supply. However, even with the water that gathered from the snowfall, 39 of Utah’s 45 largest reservoirs were below 55% of available capacity and overall statewide storage was 50% capacity according to the report.
“We still have a long way to go and need many snowstorms to reach an average, or preferably above-average, snowpack,” said Brian Steed, the executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, in a statement reported by KSL News.
In 2021, southwestern Utah not only experienced record-breaking drought, but extreme flooding as well. Some of those floods led to a city-wide state of emergency in Cedar City on July 26, 2021. The floods displaced over 200 Southern Utah University students before the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.
Current data presented by officials with Utah’s Division of Water Resources shows that Washington County may run out of water by the end of the decade.
One proposed solution to Washington County’s water crisis would be the creation of the Lake Powell Pipeline — a pipeline that would transport 28 billion gallons of water from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir annually.
The project would cost $2.4 billion and cover 140 miles of pipeline. It is a proposal that has been rejected by neighboring states like Colorado and is not approved by the federal government.
The Utah Rivers Council, a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect Utah’s rivers and the ecosystems and communities they support, opposes the creation of the Lake Powell Pipeline.
The organization reasons that the pipeline is unnecessary because there are several local water sources that can supply Washington County. The Colorado River’s flow has declined nearly 20% this century, and the pipeline would cross state, federal and tribal lands.
Two million people are currently at risk of losing their access to water with the risks of earthquakes destroying aging aqueducts according to Deseret News.
Three major aqueducts that transport water throughout Utah run through the Wasatch Front, one of the largest earthquake threats to the western United States. Those aqueducts are the Alpine Aqueduct in Utah County, the Salt Lake Aqueduct and the Jordan Aqueduct.
The potential of an earthquake threatens Utahns who rely on these aqueducts. In the event the aqueducts are destroyed, those people would be without water for up to six months and it could cost $192 million to fix the damages.
Governor Spencer Cox stated the drought will be a major topic in the next legislative session which begins on Jan. 18, 2022.
Article by: Danielle Meuret
Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash