A fresh dusting of snow in the Wasatch Mountains this week might have offered optimism to some in drought-stricken Utah, but it didn’t dissuade Salt Lake City from urging residents to conserve water for a second consecutive year.
How? For starters, by reducing their consumption with small acts, like taking shorter showers, repairing leaks, planting water-wise landscaping and cutting back the frequency of outdoor watering.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office announced Tuesday that the city will start peak-demand season in the second stage of a five-tiered plan to address water shortages. That means the city is asking residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 5%.
The announcement comes as Utah continues to come to grips with the reality of a parched water supply.
“We cannot wait until later in the season to be proactive about water conservation — we have to make changes today,” Mendenhall said in a news release. “Last year our residents and business owners were incredible partners in reducing water usage city- and valleywide and I’m confident they’ll show up again this year to help conserve this precious resource.”
Between July and September, users who get their water from Salt Lake City Public Utilities saved 2.26 billion gallons compared to the average usage in the same time frame over the previous three years.
The department supplies water to residents in Salt Lake City, Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights, and parts of Holladay, Murray, Midvale and unincorporated Salt Lake County.
Laura Briefer, the department’s director, said in a statement that forecasts for this year show higher temperatures and lower precipitation.
Although soil moisture is slightly better than last year, she said, snowpack is below normal, meaning runoff is expected to be below average.
More than half the department’s water supply comes from runoff in the Wasatch Mountains.
The city plans to do outreach in coming weeks to encourage more water conservation. It says residents can also save water by shutting off irrigation systems during rainstorms and checking sprinklers for broken or misaligned spray heads.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, lauded Mendenhall’s call for voluntary conservation but warned it doesn’t go far enough.
“Salt Lake City is still decades behind other Western water suppliers in saving water,” he said. “The city has been reluctant to acknowledge some of the basic requirements for a viable water conservation program.”
One example, Frankel said, is raising rates on high-volume users.
Under the second stage of the city’s contingency plan, municipal users — such as public golf courses, parks and city-owned buildings — will face water restrictions.
Salt Lake County, meanwhile, is trying to build on the conservation success it experienced in 2021.
County Mayor Jenny Wilson tasked county agencies with dialing back water use by at least 5% last year. The county exceeded that conservation goal, Wilson has reported, reaching a 13% reduction in overall water use.
To continue the savings, county departments are waiting until mid-May at the earliest to begin watering the grass on public property, cutting one day out of their watering schedule, monitoring sprinklers and using a broom to maintain sidewalks and parking lots.
One of the county’s thirstiest departments, parks and recreation, uses a smart watering system that monitors weather and tracks exactly what each park needs and what they are getting.
Understanding how much water is being used is an important component of conservation, parks Director Martin Jensen told the County Council on Tuesday.
The division also plans to make conservation gains, he said, by using federal pandemic relief money to upgrade the in-ground irrigation systems for county parks.
“We are trying,” Jensen said, “to be proactive as much as possible.”