OGDEN — The head of Northern Utah’s largest water supplier says the state’s ongoing drought is the worst of his multi-decade career, but the five-county region he oversees is not yet to the point of panic.
Tage Flint, general manager and CEO of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, spoke at a House Committee on Natural Resources forum Wednesday that focused on a prolonged drought that is affecting much of the western United States. A few weeks prior to the House forum, Flint sat down with Layton Mayor Joy Petro for a similar discussion that was published on Layton City’s Facebook page.
Flint took over as head of the WBWC in 2001. Prior to his tenure, Flint’s father, Ivan, was head of the district for nearly 30 years, so Flint is no greenhorn when it comes to the region’s water supply.
The WBWC district serves Weber, Davis, Box Elder, Morgan and Summit counties and individual irrigators. The district provides water for more than 700,000 residents and operates seven large storage reservoirs, three hydro-power generation plants, 21 wells, four water treatment plants, and hundreds of miles of canals, tunnels, aqueducts and pipelines.
“In my career, this is the worst — and I’ve been doing this a long time,” Flint said Wednesday to a group of Republican House members who represent states across the West. “And the effect of which is record low river runoff in all of our rivers in the state and record low reservoir storage.”
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100% of Weber County is in a “severe drought,” the third most significant drought classification under the NIDIS monitoring system. NIDIS says 65% of the county is in the “extreme drought” phase, the second most significant classification. According to the NIDIS, all of the following can be present during an extreme drought: pasture and water is inadequate for cattle, air quality is poor, dust is a problem, national vegetation is stressed and fire danger increases.
Flint was invited to the panel by Blake Moore, Republican congressman for Utah’s 1st District. Moore, who was elected in November 2020, said the ongoing drought is at the top of his mind.
“(It) poses a challenge for every individual and industry in Utah,” Moore said. “This is not something that’s new to the West, but we have other circumstances that highlights the need.”
Among the most pressing of circumstances is growth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah has been the fastest-growing state in the nation over the past decade. The University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute predicts Utah’s population will double, reaching more than 6 million residents, by 2065.
“And remember, in Northern Utah, most of that growth that we are talking about are our own children and grandchildren,” Flint told Petro. “We do have imports, but the majority is our own families just getting bigger.”
Flint said the Northern Utah region has cyclical droughts about every 10 to 15 years, which usually last around three years but historically have lasted as long as seven years. This year, Flint says, snowpack in the region was about 65% of normal and runoff will be about 40% of normal. He said the WBWC can bridge a three-year drought without much interruption in service, aside from maybe shortening the window for irrigation season, which will happen this year.
“The good news is we are going to be able to handle the drought this year ... we’ll be fine,” he told Petro. “We have reservoirs that carry two years’ worth of water, so we’re not sounding the alarm that your drinking water somehow is going to be impaired or limited, it will not be. But we will be stopping the irrigation season, secondary water, on Oct. 1 instead of Oct. 15. That gives us a block of water that we can store and save until next year.”