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Salt Lake City took the first official step Monday to notify its residents of possible water shortages this summer.
Mayor Ralph Becker issued a "stage one advisory," the first of five steps in the city's contingency plan for dealing with drought. No water-use restrictions are required at this point, but the advisory is designed to let agencies and water users know to prepare for shortages if wetter weather does not materialize soon and to avoid wasting water.
"This careful water-management approach is part of our overall efforts to adapt to, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change that are already upon us," Becker said in a news release. " ... Salt Lake City is not immune to the realities of the climate-change crisis and our recent below-average snowfall is a clear sign of that. We are doing everything we can to address this problem for the short and long term."
City Public Utilities Director Jeff Niermeyer said his agency retained more water in its reservoirs last summer "in the event of another year of below-average snow," leaving the city's current water supply at 90 percent of normal.
Good thing. Snowpack numbers are rather bleak, so the runoff will not add much to water levels.
According to the National Weather Service website, a monitoring station at Snowbird, where snowpack normally has 41 inches of water in mid-April, had just under 21 inches Monday its second driest year in the past 25.
In Big Cottonwood Canyon, a major source of Salt Lake City's water supply, the Brighton monitoring gauge was the driest it's been in 29 years. It measured 6.3 inches of water in the snowpack, 27 percent of normal (21 inches). Another station at Mill D North was at just 11 percent of normal, its driest winter in 27 years.
"This year's snow levels," Niermeyer said, "mean it is important to maintain that goal of reserving water for future need, should this pattern of low snowfall and runoff continue into next year."
Steve Erickson, the Utah Audubon Council's legislative advocate, called the city's advisory "an appropriate move to get people's attention. It's been a grim winter. We're likely to see this get worse so people need to start thinking about how they can conserve water not just in Salt Lake City but around the state.
"Drier is going to be the new normal," he added, "and if we don't have better winters than this last one, it will become a significant problem for the state that will require some sacrifices from all quarters. Longer term, we're concerned in particular about the levels of the Great Salt Lake reaching a historic low soon. That ain't good."
To save water, Niermeyer's office recommends residents:
• Check sprinklers for broken or misaligned spray heads.
• Get a free sprinkler check by calling 1-877-728-3420.
• Find information on landscaping and water-saving tips at slcgardenwise.com.
• Promptly repair any leaking indoor faucets or fixtures.
Salt Lake City has a five-stage contingency plan to deal with water shortages. Stages are:
Advisory • Let people know they should be careful with their usage because shortages may occur.
Mild • Voluntary restrictions suggested for all customers, mandatory actions for parks, golf courses, schools and government facilities. Goal is 5 percent reduction in average annual demand.
Moderate • Tighter controls are enacted to cut usage by 15 percent.
Severe • More watering restrictions become mandatory in hopes of cutting use 25 percent.
Critical • Screws tightened even more to achieve goal of 35 percent usage reduction.
Source: 2004 Water Conservation Master Plan