St. George – Snow on Pine Valley Mountain is a welcome sight for Washington County water managers after one of the worst drought years on record for the region. While drought conditions have eased somewhat, water managers are still urging conservation.
The rain events have made local water officials optimistic about the area’s water needs, at least in the short term.
“In the short term, these events have been fantastic,” said Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District on Thursday.
Southwest Utah kicked off the year with more than 200% natural ice blocks. That has since fallen to 177% of normal as of Friday as temperatures gradually rise.
Storms have helped put moisture in the soil and this eventually helps prevent thaw from seeping into the ground before it reaches the Virgin River. Soil moisture is currently about 113% of normal, said Rehnstrom, a far cry from last winter when snow sucked up the dry land like a sponge.
Storms across the state brought such a measure of drought relief that no part of Utah is currently included in the “exceptional” drought category, the highest level of drought listed by the United States Drought Monitor. However, large parts of the country remain in the “severe” and “extreme” categories.
As of the first week of January, Washington County falls into the “moderate” drought category. While this pleases local water managers, if there are no more storms, drought conditions may worsen again.
“Although we’re in a good position now, if we don’t have two good storms this spring, we will probably go back to (worse) drought conditions,” Rehnstrom said.
It is best for people to adopt water conservation measures now and to continue with them even when the water situation seems better, Rehnstrom said. That way, when drought conditions worsen, people will actually do their part to conserve water, he said.
“We know for a fact that it’s only a matter of time before we go into another drought cycle,” Rehnstrom said.
Rainstrom said he was encouraged by the county’s response to providing water over the past year as drought conditions became among the worst in the state’s history.
After reviewing their numbers for 2021, water managers discovered that county residents saved an estimated 400 million gallons less water in 2021 than in 2020. The majority of the water saved came from St. George.
“It was really cool to see how our compatriots responded to the recent drought,” Rehnstrom said. “That’s a lot of water.”
As the water district enters the new year, district spokeswoman Carrie Rathjee said the district “remains laser-focused on conservation.”
Work continues between the Water District and local municipalities to create uniform water conservation laws that were discussed during the recent Water Summit. The water district has also drafted a water conservation plan, and is on the way to implement an additional fee for excess water use for potential water waste.
The Water District is also involved in the construction of new tanks, such as the Toquer and Dry Wash tanks, and the construction of a three million gallon water tank.
“We feel confident going into this next year that we will be able to recharge our tanks, and maybe even refill our tanks,” Rehnstrom said.
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