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Utah reservoir system at lower levels than 2021; designed to withstand drought

By Ashtyn Asay - Daily Herald | Jun 16, 2022

Ben Dorger, Standard-Examiner file photo

The Pineview Dam and spillway is seen on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at the Ogden Canyon Water Treatment Plant.

With Utah’s extreme drought conditions from 2021 carrying over into 2022, residents statewide are depending on the reservoir system now more than ever.

Utah has 45 large reservoirs that capture water from mountain streams in 11 river basins statewide, however, 95% of Utah’s water supply volume comes from the snowmelt stored in those reservoirs. As of June 1, Utah’s statewide reservoir status is currently at 63% — 6% lower than at the same point in 2021.

Due to Utah’s climate, storage reservoirs play an important part in the state’s water system by allowing water to be captured and stored in wetter years to use during drier years, like 2021 and 2022, stabilizing water availability.

“Drought resiliency isn’t the only thing large reservoirs provide, which is why sharing the cost of this large water infrastructure is so important,” reads a press release from Prepare60. “Things like wildfire protection, flood control, endangered species protection, and recreation benefit the broader public and require storage reservoirs. The cost of these big-ticket items is paid for through property taxes.”

Water levels vary statewide due to Utah’s diverse climate and hydrology conditions. Because of this, Pineview reservoir sits at 66% full, Jordanelle reservoir sits at 78% full, Deer Creek reservoir sits at 82% full, Strawberry reservoir at 79% full, and Utah Lake is 54% full.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

People play on the beach at the Spanish Oaks Reservoir on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

“Nobody in Utah County really relies on Utah Lake, but people are interested in it,” said Jared Hansen, a project manager for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

The higher water levels in reservoirs operated by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, like Jordanelle and Strawberry, will allow for massive water cooperation this year. Water leaders are developing a temporary water exchange, where water from the Central Utah Water project will help address water needs in the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

Water levels are higher at Central Utah Water Conservancy District reservoirs not because the areas that they are located in experience more precipitation, but because of the way that the reservoirs were designed.

“The Central Utah Project was built a little bit later, and the water rights for the Central Utah Project are a lower priority,” Hansen said. “To make the project work, the reservoirs had to be built bigger so that we could withstand multiple years of drought and still deliver water to our customers.”

Although reservoirs in Utah County are fuller than in many other parts of the state, Hansen is encouraging Utahans to continue to be conservative in their water use in order to save water for years to come.

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Cars pass by the extended shoreline of Pineview Reservoir on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Ogden City says the reservoir is below 16% of capacity due to the ongoing drought.

“What we’re seeing is pretty unprecedented, historically we haven’t had consecutive dry years like this,” he said. “I think it’s important that people understand that even though we have this water in storage they need to be careful and not waste water.”

According to Prepare60, Weber Basin realized only 3% of the average runoff, resulting in only 7,000 acre-feet of storage water. “With nearly all carry-over storage from previous years depleted, Pineview reservoir currently sits at 66% full and levels will continue to decrease throughout the summer,” reads the release.

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