Utah’s reservoir system integral during drought

Statewide reservoir status at 63% of capacity

Extreme drought conditions in 2021 impacted the entire state of Utah, and with 2022 experiencing similar conditions, the state’s reservoir system is showcasing its purpose.

Storage reservoirs are an important part of Utah’s water system as they allow water managers to capture extra water supply in wet years and use it in dry years like the ones Utah is now experiencing. Many water suppliers have been using the storage to help stabilize water availability.

Utah has 45 large reservoirs that capture water from mountain streams within 11 river basins across the state. Approximately 95% of Utah’s water supply volume comes from snowmelt which is stored in those reservoirs. As of June 1, the statewide reservoir status was at 63% of capacity, about 6% lower than the same time last year. However, water levels vary greatly across river basins due to diverse climate and hydrology conditions statewide.

For example, in an average year, Weber Basin drainage would see a runoff of approximately 324,000 acre-feet. In 2021, Weber Basin realized only 3% of average, resulting in only 7,000 acre-feet of storage water. With nearly all carry-over storage from previous years depleted, Pineview reservoir currently sits at 66% full and levels will continue to decrease throughout the summer.

In the neighboring Utah Lake and Uinta Basins, Deer Creek reservoir is 82% full and Strawberry reservoir sits at 79% full. These higher levels allowed for a massive cooperative effort this year between water leaders to develop a temporary water exchange to use stored water from the Central Utah Water project and address water needs in the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

The water storage infrastructure put in place and financed through property taxes decades ago has allowed Utahns today to have enough water through the recent drought. Current water users do their part now through daily water conservation efforts. The package deal of water conservation and water infrastructure allows for generational water planning.

“Adopting effective long-term water conservation practices will stretch existing supplies and provide greater resiliency to drought, but there is no silver bullet to solve future water supply concerns,” said Bart Forsyth, General Manager of Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “Ensuring access to safe, reliable water will require many participants and several methods.”

Drought resiliency isn’t the only thing large reservoirs provide, which is why sharing the cost of this large water infrastructure is so important. Things like wildfire protection, flood control, endangered species protection, and recreation benefit the broader public and require storage reservoirs. The cost of these big-ticket items is paid for through property taxes.