Spanish Valley irrigators who live beyond Moab’s city limits will have to cut their water usage by 25 percent.
The Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) sent out letters last week informing its largest customers that they must curb their water usage, following an unusually dry March that reduced flows into Ken’s Lake.
GWSSA Manager Mark Sovine said the restrictions affect 40 percent of the GWSSA’s service area in southern Grand and northern San Juan counties and will not impact customers who rely on the agency for their culinary water.
“We are only talking about the irrigators,” he said.
The City of Moab has no plans to follow suit, according to Moab City Public Works Director Jeff Foster.
“We’re watching it very carefully, but at this point, we have no need to impose restrictions,” he told the Moab Sun News.
Sovine told the agency’s board members last week that the restrictions can always be adjusted, based on the amount of precipitation that falls in the weeks to come.
“That’s subject to change,” he said during the board’s April 16 meeting. “If we get some good storms, we can (limit restrictions). If it continues as dry as it’s been, we may have to increase those that are going.”
Sovine said he has already been in touch with most of the agency’s large customers to give them a heads-up about the cutbacks.
“None of them were happy, but almost all of them understood,” he said.
Ironically, the board’s discussion came shortly after the first measurable rainfall this spring poured down. The storm continued over the next two days, and by the time it was over, it brought the year-to-date total at the 9,560-foot level in the La Sal Mountains up from 13 inches to 14.1 inches.
“It helped,” Sovine said. “It’s given me more of a comfort level with the restrictions we put in place.”
More rain is on the horizon this weekend, although Sovine is reluctant to count on that forecast as a sure thing.
“I’m more of a ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ (guy),” he said.
Even if the forecasted storm is a big one, the area still has some catching up to do in terms of water storage, after March’s abnormally dry weather.
“Last month was a bad month,” Sovine said. “We were hoping for our traditional seasonal spring storms, but they simply didn’t happen.”
As a result, the snow-water equivalent at a monitoring station in the La Sals was down to zero on April 16, compared to an average of 11.6 inches, according to provisional data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Those levels, in turn, affect water levels at Ken’s Lake, which serves the agency’s irrigators.
Before last week’s storms hit, the reservoir held 1,365 acre-feet of water, or roughly 444,787,197 gallons. That’s a tad above the 15-year average, but it’s down from where it was at the time of the GWSSA board’s previous meeting.
The downward trend is also abnormal, when compared to the long-term average: It should be going up, as higher-elevation snowpacks typically begin to melt after the April 1 peak.
Similar stories are unfolding across much of the West. The only holdouts are in the highest elevations of the Rocky Mountains, according to an April 17 bulletin from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
As a result, the conservation service is predicting that late spring and summer stream flows throughout much of the West will fall below normal.
When GWSSA Operating Committee president Dan Pyatt looks at the current conditions, they remind him of the ever-worsening situation three years ago.
“This is kind of mimicking the pattern that we had in 2012,” he said.
Earlier that year, Ken’s Lake had more water than it does now, and agency officials were expecting additional runoff later on, so they were slow to act, Sovine said.
“We didn’t react until almost the end of May,” he said. “We were caught short, caught by surprise, with this year looking the same, only … with 200-acre-feet less, it was time to discuss some restrictions.”
Any further decisions the GWSSA makes could ultimately depend on the amount of diverted Mill Creek runoff that flows through Sheley Tunnel to the reservoir.
“If there’s less than 500-acre-feet coming through the tunnel, then we may have some more tough choices to make,” Pyatt said.
Sovine believes that the agency and its water users as a whole are better-prepared than they were three years ago.
“The biggest complaint or gripe I heard in 2012 was, ‘Why did you wait so long to tell us? We wished we’d known sooner,’” he said. “So we’re doing everything we can to make sure they know.”
GWSSA trustee Jerry McNeely said that U.S. Forest Service officials are predicting a wet summer.
“They think it’s going to be more like last year,” McNeely said.
But GWSSA Operating Committee member Rex Tanner suggested that the agency can’t depend on those predictions so far ahead of time.
“It’s a guessing game at the end of the day,” he said.
“It’s like trying to predict the stock market,” he said. “Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you go broke.”
Move follows an unusually dry March; City has no plans to implement restrictions
If we get some good storms, we can (limit restrictions). If it continues as dry as it’s been, we may have to increase those that are going.