Water district says county supply is in ‘a good place,’ encourages ‘common sense sustainability practices’

Evening at Gunlock Reservoir, Washington County, Utah, March 23, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Water district officials say Washington County’s watershed is booming after one of Southern Utah’s wettest springs.

According to Ron Thompson, Washington County Water Conservancy District general Manager, Washington County’s watersheds provide water for several bodies of water, including Santa Clara River, Sand Hollow Reservoir and Navajo Lake. 

The most notable source in Washington County is the Virgin River Watershed, a tributary of the Colorado River. According to the district, the watershed is “prone to excessive drought conditions and is not sufficient to meet the demands” of the county’s rapidly growing population. 

“We’re in a county where we are pretty well dependent on one watershed,” Thompson said. “It’s critical that we take care of it, that we manage it appropriately, that we are good stewards of it. It provides the only source of water that we have in this county right now.”

A Virgin River access point near an old Cottonwood tree, Confluence Park, LaVerkin, Utah, Dec. 15, 2018 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

According to Thompson, it is urgent that the county finds or creates additional water sources. Diversifying the water source will help the district “have a wider swing” to maintain the supply through “tremendous shifts.” In 2018, for example, the county had its driest year in over 100 years, and only a year later, Washington County saw one of the wettest springs.

The water district is working with state and municipal partners to identify additional water resources for the county, including new resource development, wastewater reuse and agricultural conversions.

For now, Thompson said the county is in an optimal place thanks to the area’s “great water year,” which filled all of the reservoirs. In general, he said, the watershed’s health is good and the district is in “a good place.”

Full reservoirs, however, present a unique concern. Thompson said the added water supports more vegetation, which the Southern Utah’s summer heat turns into fuel for wildfires.

With the increased development in municipalities all over Southern Utah, residents and city councils have touched on concerns regarding the supply of water. Thompson said it’s a reasonable concern, but he doesn’t believe the county will run out of water. The district is already working to ensure a steady supply of water.

Despite these assurances, Thompson said it should always be a priority to “use water wisely” and actively seek to maintain the quality of water. Threats to local water are “vast and significant,” he said, but the biggest hurdle the district faces is getting residents to practice “common sense sustainability practices.”  

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona, date unspecified | Photo by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay, St. George News

“We’ve got projects that are in the planning that are being built or have been built, and we will continue to supply water to our economy.”

The water district is currently participating in four projects: Lake Powell Pipeline, Sand Hollow Regional Pipeline, Warner Valley Reservoir and the Toquer Reservoir and Ash Creek Pipeline.

The Lake Powell Pipeline would run from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir, cross the Utah and Arizona border and carry around 77 million gallons per day to 13 communities in Kane and Washington counties.

Plans are currently stalled while Utah uses its 30-day extension to provide documentation and plans to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently reported Lake Powell water levels have risen over 50 feet since April. The organization attributed the dramatic change to the large amount of snow the area received during the winter months. 

Email: rrichardson@stgnews.com 

Twitter: @STGnews | @AvereeRyann 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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