Dishwasher or wash by hand? Car wash or hose? See which little actions can help you save water.

People can’t take a break from conserving water, but there’s a lot of room for people to use less without it being a burden, one conservation manager said.

(Todd Adams | The Salt Lake Tribune) Water conservancy becomes vitally important as summer heat takes hold in Utah.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Streams and creeks in Utah’s canyons are still bursting as record snowpack melts. But with triple-digit heat hitting the state, conservation experts are urging more thoughtful water use both inside and out.

About 34% of Utah was at least abnormally dry as of mid-July despite the good water year, and close to 10% of that area was in a moderate drought, according to a project monitoring drought conditions across the country.

That’s better than a year ago when more than 80% of the state was in an extreme drought and parts were classified in exceptional drought conditions.

But one good winter doesn’t fix multiple years of drought, said Shelby Ericksen, conservation manager for Utah’s Division of Water Resources.

Stephanie Duer, water conservation manager for Salt Lake City, added there’s no guarantee of another good water year and people need to use less water regardless of the snowpack.

Conservation is ongoing, she said, and Utahns can’t take a break from it.

The good news: There’s a lot of room for people to use less water without it being a burden, Duer said.

“We have enough water for us to use, we just don’t have enough water for us to waste,” she said.

Record snowpack doesn’t mean an end to conservation efforts

Snowpack provides 95% of Utah’s water supply, according to the Division of Water Resources.

As this year’s record snowpack melts, it supplies the mountain stream and rivers that fill reservoirs and recharges the groundwater in wells and springs. Those reservoirs, wells and springs provide year-round running water for Utahns’ homes, lawns and more across the state.

Drought has threatened the future of Utah’s water supply, and parts of the state are too dry even with the record snowpack.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drought conditions left many shallow ponds dry on the Great Salt Lake's South Shore in October 2022. While record snowpack last winter was a gift for the state's water supply, conservation agencies still recommend thoughtful water use going forward.

As of July 11, 34.24% of the state was abnormally dry and 9.7% of that area was in a moderate drought, including the entirety of Sevier and Piute counties, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

That monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s updated weekly on Thursday based on data from Tuesday.

Nearly 2/3 of the state has no drought conditions. That’s better than a year ago when all of Utah was at least abnormally dry.

People still need to live within their water means, though, Ericksen said.

“We can’t be dependent on Mother Nature to always be providing a crazy winter,” she said.

Even if the state is ever out of a drought, people still need to conserve water, Duer said.

Everyday actions can save gallons of water

Living within water means doesn’t need to mean big sacrifices, Duer said.

In fact, someone can save several gallons of water a day by turning off the faucet while they aren’t using it, she said.

Bathroom faucets use about a gallon of water per minute, and kitchen faucets can use up to two gallons per minute, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Duer said people also should be mindful of how long they’re in the shower. Even water-saving shower heads use about two gallons per minute, according to USGS.

Using a dishwasher also is more efficient than washing dishes by hand, Duer said. She’s tried (and failed) to “beat” dishwashers.

USGS says dishwashers use six to 16 gallons on average per cycle, while washing dishes by hand uses anywhere from nine to 27 gallons of water. For those who don’t have a dishwasher and have to wash by hand, the federal agency recommends soaking dishes in a basin of soapy water before washing them and having another filled with warm water for rinsing rather than leaving the tap on.

Duer added the “cute ads about ‘doing it every day’” are bad advice. Dishwashers and washing machines should be full before running them, she said.

Other inside actions also can use gallons upon gallons of water:

  • Flushing the toilet uses an average of three gallons.

  • Taking a bath uses about 36 gallons, on average.

USGS offers a tool for people to find out roughly how much water they use at home on a typical day and gives tips for how to use less.

The tool doesn’t include information about car washing, but Duer recommended ditching the bucket and hose.

“Take it to a carwash,” she said. “They’re relatively inexpensive and it’s a better choice environmentally.”

Longer grass, watering less can save thousands of gallons

There’s an even greater capacity to save water on landscaping.

Water use will go up as the days get warmer, Duer said, but as late summer arrives, people should adjust their watering habits.

“Even though we’re hot in August, (people’s) plants aren’t, and they can water less,” she said.

A good test to see whether it’s time to water the lawn is sticking a screwdriver into the soil. If it pushes down deep with ease beyond a couple inches, the soil has enough moisture to go at least another day without water, Duer said.

She also recommended people keep their lawns a little taller. Longer grass has deeper roots and provides more shade for the point where growth starts, she said.

Skipping one watering a week can save about 3,000 gallons of water, Ericksen said. The state has a weekly lawn watering guide people can use to make sure they don’t overwater. It includes customized recommendations based on where people live, lawn type and sprinkler head.

Salt Lake City residents also can use a new tool to see how much water their lawn needs.

WaterMAPS was developed by a team at Utah State University and integrates data on parcels, land cover, water usage and weather to calculate how efficiently people are using water on their landscape.

People can go through their billing accounts to see whether they should water more or less often and how much they could save based on a landscape irrigation ratio.

Utah also offers incentives and rebates, including opportunities to switch to a Waterwise landscape, through utahwatersavers.com and slowtheflow.org.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Examples of conservation-minded gardening abound, including this park strip display at Conservation Garden Park on the grounds of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in West Jordan, seen here on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

And Salt Lake City has been selling grass seed that takes 30% to 40% less water for about a year. Public Utilities had been selling the seed to the public at cost through its SLC Turf Trade, but the program’s popularity led to it selling out for this summer season. Some retailers have started selling it, too, Duer said.

Megan Banta is The Salt Lake Tribune’s data enterprise reporter, a philanthropically supported position. The Tribune retains control over all editorial decisions.

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