ST. GEORGE — An especially wet winter in Southern Utah has been followed up by a record-breaking period without measurable precipitation.
The St. George area has gone 122 days without a measurable amount of rain so far this year, which breaks a previous record of 121 days set in 1929.
“This isn’t a good record to break,” Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said in a press release Thursday. “Fortunately, we have local water storage that will meet the region’s immediate needs, but this prolonged drought underscores the need to diversify and enhance our water supplies to protect our communities.”
The wetter, cooler winter Utah experienced earlier this year filled up the county’s reservoirs. Some reservoirs, such as Gunlock, reached levels not seen for a handful of years.
The wet winter came on the heels of one of the driest years in county history, part of a larger drought situation the state was facing. Last fall, Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing dry spell, as 100% of the state was experiencing moderate to exceptional levels of drought. The following winter reduced that amount to around 16% of the state, prompting Herbert to rescind the drought declaration in September.
That lingering 16% is primarily in Southern Utah, with the majority of Washington County experiencing moderate drought.
This year, Southwest Utah experienced a light monsoon season that dropped only traces of moisture. No other monsoon season was drier in St. George than 1944 when the city had no rain.
Despite the lack of rainfall over the last four months, the water district has touted the effectiveness of the county reservoirs in seeing the county through dry spells.
Combined with municipal water sources, the county’s water storage should carry the county through a few years of drought, Karry Rathje, the water district’s communications director, told St. George News Thursday. However, how long the storage lasts will depend on the severity of continuing drought conditions, she said.
As they have in the past when questions of water reliability for the county arise, water district officials have pointed to the need to diversify the county’s water sources instead of relying solely on the Virgin River Basin. The water district predicts that the county’s growing population could exceed local water supply by the late 2020s if a second water source is not secured.
“There are significant risks to a single-source water system, especially when that system serves one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations and economies,” Thompson said. “As a regional water supplier, our district must plan and build reliable and sustainable systems to meet current and future demand.”
Much of the discussion about how to meet future demand has revolved around the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, which local civic and water officials say is crucial to the county’s future sustainability and growth.
The 140-mile, 70-inch diameter Lake Powell Pipeline would run from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir with a projected route that snakes across the Utah and Arizona border over public and private land, carrying around 77 million gallons a day to 13 communities in Kane and Washington counties.
Opponents aren’t convinced of the touted need for the pipeline. They argue that Washington County has enough water and should focus on conservation; the Colorado River isn’t a reliable water resource long term and is already overtaxed; and the cost of the pipeline project is astronomical, which could cripple the local economy with high impacts fees, property taxes and water rates.
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