OGDEN — With the calendar officially turned to spring, it won’t be long before Northern Utahns start thinking about irrigating their lawn.
But amid a significant ongoing drought, state and local officials are telling residents, “Not so fast.”
Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox issued an emergency declaration due to the drought, telling all Utahns to limit their water usage.
“We’ve been monitoring drought conditions carefully and had hoped to see significant improvement from winter storms,” Cox said in a press release. “Unfortunately, we have not received enough snow to offset the dry conditions. I ask Utahns to evaluate their water use and find ways to save not only because of current drought conditions but also because we live in one of the driest states in the nation.”
Cox says 100% of Utah is in the “moderate” drought category and 90% of the state is experiencing “extreme” drought. Cox’s state of emergency declaration allows drought-affected communities, agricultural producers and others to officially begin the process that could ultimately provide access to state or federal emergency resources.
After a dry summer and fall, this winter’s statewide snowpack is about 70% of average for the year, Cox said. For snowpack to reach average, Utah’s mountains would need to receive the remaining 30% before it starts to melt significantly, which typically happens during the first week of April. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in the Weber and Davis county area was about 75% of normal, as of Tuesday. Further north, into Box Elder and Cache counties, snowpack is at about 80% of normal.
Soil moisture levels are at the lowest numbers since monitoring began in 2006.
Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said when soils are dry, post-winter rain will be soaked up by the ground first, reducing the runoff that typically fills reservoirs, lakes and streams.
“We urge people to consider ways they can save water and help be part of the solution,” Steed said.
The governor’s drought declaration won’t impact when Northern Utah’s water service providers begin offering seasonal secondary water. Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said secondary water provided by Pineview Water Systems, which serves most of Ogden, is scheduled to turn on by April 15 as normal.
“But we still want people to be responsible when that comes on,” the mayor said.
Ogden has long had an ordinance governing the condition of residents’ lawns. The city’s code on landscaping (section 15-13-16) says “all plantings shall be maintained in a healthy and attractive condition (and) ... shall be adequately watered to maintain a healthy condition as by the typical color of the plant under normal growing conditions.”
But in recent years, the city has taken a liberal enforcement stance on the code, something Caldwell says will continue.
“We’re more concerned about big, tall weeds and other nuisances,” Caldwell said. “We’ve taken a big step back on that in previous years because we’ve realized many of our residents don’t have secondary water and it can get expensive to keep their lawns green. So, obviously, when we’re in drought conditions like we are now, we’re not really going to be chasing that.
In a Facebook post, the Utah Division of Water Resources said all Utahns should hold off on watering their lawns until further notice.
“So when should you start watering your landscape?” the post reads. “We will tell you when! We promise that we don’t want your landscape to die and we won’t make recommendations that would do that.”
The last time conditions warranted a drought declaration was October 2018 under former Gov. Gary Herbert. Back then, 99% of the state was in a moderate drought, with about 76% of Utah in severe drought.