UTAH

How bad is the drought? West has not been this dry since Year 800

Feb 15, 2022, 5:16 PM | Updated: Mar 3, 2022, 9:21 am
FILE - Officials say due to drought conditions Utah could see a fire similar to what Colorado is ex...
FILE - Officials say due to drought conditions Utah could see a fire similar to what Colorado is experiencing. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)
(Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

Sound up for live interview on Dave and Dujanovic on passage of Utah water bill. Also, read more in the article below.

How bad is the Western drought? New study says worst in 1,200 years. You read that right.

That was the headline Monday in the Deseret News. The news article said this about the drought:

While there was a time in the 1500s when soil moisture content was drier than that of 2000 to 2018, tree ring evidence shows that 2000 to 2021 was the driest 22-year period since at least the year 800.

Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, joined KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic to discuss what Utah lawmakers must do and what the near future looks like for Utah and the West.

How much water do you use on your lawn?

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, introduced House Bill 242 which would impose requirements related to metering secondary water on houses beginning in 2030. The bill passed 58-14 and moves to the Senate.

Utah has some of the highest per-person water use in the United States, in part, because of the prevalence of unmetered secondary water systems, which supply untreated irrigation water for outdoor water use. Users of these systems pay a flat monthly or annual fee regardless of how much water they use, according to Western Resource Advocates.

According to Deseret News article:

“I keep hearing that metering saves water. … But other than just knowing how many gallons I’m using; how does that save water?” Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, asked during floor debate on the proposed law Monday.

Debbie pointed out that that is the point. You know how much water you are using on your lawn and garden because it is measured.

“Essentially, when you know how much you’re using, you’re guilted into not using too much. That’s my viewpoint of it,” Debbie said.

“Okay, that makes total sense because I had no idea how much money I was spending on fast food until I started tracking how much money I was spending on fast food. And when I saw that number, I was so offended and I was so grossed out that I made some changes,” Dave said.

Ask the expert

“So, what did you think when you saw the headline: Worst drought in 1,200 years?” Debbie asked.

“This has been the worst drought that many of us have experienced in our lifetimes,” said Hasenyager. “You know, putting a number of how many years to it is startling, but we have seen extremely dry conditions for the last 20 years, and the last year was even worse than all of that.”

On March 17, 2021, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declared an emergency due to drought conditions.

Hasenyager is liking the chances in the Legislature for the secondary-water metering bill becoming state law. She added Utahns need to think of their secondary water as part of the same water system as their drinking water supply.

“In reality, think of the Weber River. That’s your drinking water, too. The secondary system just gets put in a different pipe. If we overuse our secondary water, it can impact our drinking water, for example,” she said.

Hasenyager also likes the fines in the secondary-water metering legislation to guard against overuse.

Utah is still in a drought

She said the drought conditions in Utah have been downgraded. 

“If you remember, in July of last year, about 100% of the state was in that bright-red extreme and dark-red exceptional drought categories.”

Today, 94% of the state is in severe and extreme drought, Hasenyager said. She added Utah’s reservoirs above ground and the aquifers below ground are depleted. She said the statewide storage capacity overall is about 53%, compared to 62% in February 2021.

“So, we’re almost 10% below where we were last year,” Hasenyager said.

Hydrologists ‘alarmed’ at current Utah water levels and drought outlook

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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How bad is the drought? West has not been this dry since Year 800