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Salt Lake City hits water conservation goal, saving 2.9 billion gallons of water

Sprinklers water a lawn in Salt Lake City on May 7, 2021. The executive director of Salt Lake City Utilities says the department has reduced its water usage by about 15% this year. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah’s largest water providers said it met water conservation goals set earlier this year by saving nearly 3 billion gallons of water by the end of the irrigation season.

Salt Lake City Public Utilities, which supplies water to Utah’s capital, Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights, parts of Holladay, Murray, Midvale and unincorporated territory in Salt Lake County, reduced d about 15% its water consumption since April 1 compared to its three-year average, according to Laura Briefer, director of the department. That’s a reduction of 2.9 billion gallons of water.

The city’s conservation goal is a 5% reduction in water consumption compared to the three-year average, as part of Stage 2 of the Salt Lake City Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which is the stadium City have remained in since reaching it last year for the first time in 17 years. Salt Lake City‘s plan reaches Stage 2 when it drops to 80% of its average annual water supply.

“We have therefore exceeded our targets set in stage 2 of the emergency plan for water shortages this year,” she said, as she presented the figures to members of the Salt City Council. Lake on Tuesday, noting that these decreases in water use have occurred. while the region it serves continues to grow in population.

Briefer presented the numbers to City Council as the city’s 2022 Water Year wraps up in late September.

In addition to the reduction over the past three years, a graph presented to the council showed that daily water consumption peaked at 140 million gallons of water in July this summer. But that’s a long way from when Salt Lake City peaked at levels exceeding 210 million gallons of water per day in 2000, which is considered the start of the West’s long-term mega-drought. Salt Lake’s water usage tends to be much higher in the summer due to outdoor watering.

Most of the daily figures this year fell below the combined average of 2019, 2020 and 2021; however, there was a small spike in early September that exceeded the three-year average. Daily water use briefly returned to around 130 million gallons of water per day as July temperatures shattered all sorts of temperature records in Salt Lake City earlier in the month.

This graph, presented by Salt Lake City Public Utilities, shows daily water use in 2022 compared to the three-year average and consumption in 2000. This year is currently 15% below the three-year average , depending on the city.
This graph, presented by Salt Lake City Public Utilities, shows daily water use in 2022 compared to the three-year average and consumption in 2000. This year is currently 15% below the three-year average , depending on the city. (Photo: Salt Lake City Utilities)

Regarding the city’s water resources, Briefer said the waterways the city has the right to continue to produce lower than normal water flows. She adds that Utah Lake levels are also “pretty low” and will begin to impact its water users this week. It’s another source of water used for the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley to Liberty Park to meet irrigation exchange agreements, though she doesn’t think the low levels will have a impact on Salt Lake supply.

Deer Creek Reservoir, another source to which the city has water rights, is currently listed as being at 45% capacity, despite producing 90% of its regular allocation. As the typical irrigation season draws to a close, she said she thinks Salt Lake City’s water supply is relatively stable, all things considered.

“Our water resources look good to meet demand this year and we expect demand to decline fairly quickly as we enter the start of October,” Briefer said.

Why Stage 2 Probably Won’t Go Away Soon

According to US Drought Watch. The Utah Water Resources Division currently lists the entire Utah reservoir system at 43% capacity.

What comes next is the waiting game as winter approaches. About 95% of Utah’s water supply comes from snowpack and the resulting spring runoff. A productive fall, winter and spring can contribute greatly to the water supply of the city and the state.

But we still don’t know what kind of winter awaits Utah. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center last week released a new three-month outlook for the last three months of 2022, which are also the first three months of Utah’s 2023 hydrological year. The outlook indicates that the Salt Lake City region has an “equal chance” of a wetter than normal, near normal, or below normal hydrological start to the year.

In fact, it lists all three of these options as having about a one-third chance of occurring, so it’s about as even as it gets. Salt Lake City’s combined normal for the months of October, November and December is 3.98 inches of precipitation, according to Weather Services data.

Briefer points out that this year’s mixed outlook is still “better news” than the three-month outlook released this time last year, which favored a higher likelihood of below-normal rainfall.

Despite this better outlook, time will only tell if Salt Lake City — or Utah as a whole — gets the winter it needs to begin overcoming some of its large rainfall deficits in recent years. That’s why she said the ministry expects it to remain in Stage 2 of the city’s water shortage contingency plan for the foreseeable future. The ministry will monitor this winter’s snowpack and spring runoff before making any changes.

Salt Lake City Council members seemed generally optimistic about water conservation efforts this summer, though some members asked about next steps to reduce water. For example, Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy asked if there were ways to improve systems so city parks and properties don’t water on rainy days, which officials of the city could consider in the future.

That said, he was happy with how much water users in Salt Lake City were able to save this summer.

“It’s encouraging,” he said. “We are going in the right direction.”

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Carter Williams is an award-winning journalist who covers general news, the outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a transplant from Utah via Rochester, New York.

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Mary Cashion

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