We’ve seen all the headlines and have only to glance at any of our local reservoirs, most notably Jordanelle, to affirm that water levels are less than half of normal as of early May, when we usually see rapid filling of our holding areas as the snowpack melts. Utah has been in drought eight of the past 10 years, and this year’s snowpack is 25% below normal. As of May 4, the Jordanelle reservoir was only at 52% capacity. Statewide, almost 99% of Utah is in extreme or severe drought conditions. In late April, Governor Cox declared a state of emergency due to the dire drought, which then activated the Drought Response Committee and triggers increased monitoring and reporting. We’re actually fortunate here in Summit County that Mountain Regional and our local private water companies implemented secondary water metering years ago so we can all monitor and modify our usage.
With such critical conditions, it’s incumbent on each of us to do our part to help conserve water. While my next blog will focus on Landscaping at Altitude using drought-tolerant plants and vegetation, there’s a number of things you can do now to help conserve precious water. It’s a very embarrassing statistic that Utah residents use the most water of any Western state, especially considering that Utah is the second most arid state in the country. Ironically, our water rates are the cheapest in the U.S. which defies logic and ultimately could be an unnecessary disincentive for conservation.
Since most of our water is consumed by irrigation for our lawns and landscaping, it makes sense to start there.
Have your entire sprinkler system checked by a professional at the start of each season to replace broken heads (thank you snowplows!) and to make sure you’re not watering your rock walls instead of plants.
Start conserving water by installing a WaterSense Smart Controller on your irrigation system which will automatically adjust your sprinkler system based on actual rainfall at your home. I love my “Rain Machine” controller which works exceptionally well and provides useful statistics and reporting. There are numerous brands out there so find one you like and know that a $75 rebate is available if you register on this website www.utahwatersavers.com and choose an approved controller. To determine how much you should be watering, use this handy watering guide: https://conservewater.utah.gov/weekly-lawn-watering-guide/.
Additionally, depending on your specific water provider, you likely have restrictions on which days you can water, and you are only allowed to water before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. My personal preference is to run my sprinkler system after midnight.
Earlier this spring, Park City Municipal participated in a multi-county program to offer discounted rain collecting barrels to residents as part of the RainHarvest program of the Utah Rivers Council’s effort encourage conservation. While I missed the boat on the discount program as I was traveling during the pickup time for barrels, I plan to order my barrel at https://www.rainwatersolutions.com/ anyway as the stats are pretty amazing.
Rain barrels are placed under roof downspouts to collect the water that falls during our infrequent rainstorms. The water that is collected can be used for a variety of outdoor purposes, including irrigating gardens and lawns.
Rainwater harvesting is cost-effective and can conserve substantial amounts of water. It is estimated that between 15,020 – 22,940 gallons of rainwater fall on Northern Utah house during the spring, summer, and fall.
While you might remember that at one point, harvesting rainwater was actually illegal (!), as of 2010, all Utahns are allowed to legally collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater in covered above ground containers or in underground cisterns. If you get a barrel, you’ll need to register with the state engineer with their very simple online form: https://waterrights.utah.gov/forms/rainwater.asp
Here are the top 5 ways to use water collected via RainHarvest:
- Use captured rain to irrigate your lawn and garden. You can even use it to water your indoor plants.
- Use water to supplement your drip irrigation system.
- Wash your car, bikes, mailboxes, and other exterior fixtures with collected water.
- Utilize captured rainwater to wash out recyclable bottles and cans before putting them in your recycling bin.
- Irrigate ornamental trees and plants.
To make a dent on conserving water inside your home, the non-profit National Resource Defense Council has provided this great resource list of 8 tricks that save water:
1. Put down the sponge.
It may feel more virtuous to wash by hand, but it’s actually more wasteful: You use up to 27 gallons of water per load by hand versus as little as 3 gallons with an ENERGY STAR-rated dishwasher. And just scrape off the food scraps instead of rinsing each dish before you load it. In our household, our dog Ruby acts as a very effective our rinse cycle -😉
2. Let the professionals wash your car.
Once again, your DIY instinct is admirable…but profligate. Letting the local car wash do the dirty work could save up to 100 gallons per wash. Get yourself a monthly pass to make this easy.
3. Take shorter showers.
Be mindful of daydreaming in the shower (even though it can feel so good some mornings) and aim for a 5-minute shower. Easy for me to say with a Navy background, eh!
4. Test your toilet.
Undetected internal leaks from tank to bowl could waste up to 100 gallons a day. Drop a dye tablet or food coloring in the tank yearly to see if the color of the water in the bowl changes color. If it does, your toilet needs a replacement rubber flapper or fill mechanism.
5. Conduct regular leak hunts.
A 1/16-inch opening in your faucet could waste 100 gallons a day. Tour your home monthly, inside, and out, in search of dripping faucets, showerheads, hoses, and sprinklers. Most faucet drips can be fixed simply by replacing a worn-out washer. While you are at it, run each faucet, shower and tub in the home for long enough to fill the P-Trap and prevent sewer odors in our dry climate. 10 seconds is fine.
6. Invest in that new high-efficiency appliance or fixture.
Your utility company might offer rebates or other incentives when you buy new water-saving showerheads, faucets, clothes washers, or toilets. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll still wind-up saving tons of money in the long run. Look for the EPA’s WaterSense label or ENERGY STAR certification.
7. Plant a native garden. (more details on this coming in my next blog)
One-third of residential water use goes toward watering the lawn and garden; that statistic is even higher in arid Utah. But flowers, grasses, and bushes native to the area have adapted to regional rainfall rates—so require no water—and have better defenses against predators. Another bonus: Native plants foster healthy soil and insect life, which attract birds and enhance overall biodiversity.
8. Trick out your garden hose.
So, you waste less water when you do need to use it, add an automatic shut-off nozzle to the end of your hose. You could save five gallons of water per minute.
Water conservation requires constant diligence and is so critically important. Even turning the water off while brushing your teeth can have an impact, so always be conscious of your usage. We all need to do our part to get through this drought and be thoughtful stewards of our planet.