If Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) officials had to choose a theme song to encourage water conservation in Spanish Valley, they might opt for Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever.”
With Ken’s Lake down to its lowest levels in five years, the agency has imposed mandatory water restrictions on major irrigators in the valley, and it’s encouraging its biggest customers to pump water from private wells, if possible. It’s also bringing — and working to bring — other water sources online, in an effort to minimize withdrawals from the reservoir, which currently stands at just 25 percent of capacity.
“No big surprise: It’s dry out there, kids,” said Moab City Council member Mike Duncan, who serves as the council’s representative on the GWSSA’s board of directors.
“It’s serious, and that’s why we’re trying to come up with as many creative ways as we can to make it last,” GWSSA General Manager Dana Van Horn told the Moab Sun News.
About 160 or so GWSSA customers rely on irrigation water from Ken’s Lake, ranging from farmers and Spanish Valley Vineyard & Winery, to those who use the reservoir’s water to keep their lawns and gardens alive.
Every one of those major users is currently under restrictions to curb their consumption by 50 percent, although GWSSA board chair and Spanish Valley farmer Gary Wilson said the drought situation has already had dire consequences for some. (The restrictions do not affect the agency’s residential customers who use culinary water.)
“All the big users are out,” Wilson said during the GWSSA board’s regular meeting on Thursday, June 21. “It’s over, in essence.”
Until more backup supplies are in place, Wilson sounded the alarm about the future of farming in Spanish Valley.
“If we don’t do something, agriculture in this valley will be nonexistent after this season,” he said. “So we’re going to make an effort to get something going here.”
Lake levels vary depending on runoff from the La Sal Mountains, and Van Horn said that drought conditions there are on par with where they were in the 2012-2013 water year. According to data from monitoring stations at the 9,650-foot elevation in the La Sals, just over 13 inches of precipitation — or 52 percent of the average 25.5 inches — has fallen since the current water year began in October 2017.
As a result, the reservoir held just 641 acre-feet of water as of June 21 — down from just under 1,000 acre-feet on May 31. In comparison, the lake contained more than 2,400 acre-feet of water at this time in 2017, and more than 2,540 acre-feet in 2016. (One acre-foot equals about 325,851 gallons of water.)
According to Van Horn, that leaves just 441 acre-feet — or 4 acre-feet per day — that the agency can withdraw from the reservoir.
“It can go down to about 200 acre-feet — then, the pipe is out of the water,” Van Horn said.
To put that 441 acre-foot figure in perspective, Van Horn estimated that somewhere around 350 acre-feet of water is typically withdrawn from the lake during the irrigation season, although she emphasized that those numbers can vary.
“It depends on who’s farming what,” she said.
“WE’RE STILL NOT MAKING IT”
To reduce the pressures on Ken’s Lake, the Moab Golf Club is now pumping water from a city-owned well.
“They can’t service the whole golf course with it, but they’ve drastically cut down their use on our lake water, which is great,” Van Horn said. “So that’s helping.”
Last week, the agency also asked the Rim Village townhome development to make the move to culinary water.
“Because they have the ability to basically just flip a switch,” Van Horn said.
However, even with conservative water numbers, she said, the agency is “still not making it,” so she’s going through a list of water users and trying to get well owners to pump water if they can.
“We’re actively seeking irrigation customers that have private irrigation wells they can use instead,” she said. “We’ll pay their power bills.”
The agency is also running one of its wells almost 24 hours per day, pumping out about 3 to 4 acre-feet of water each day. On a recent day last week, for instance, that well was running 1,250 gallons per minute, when only 600 gallons per minute were coming from the lake.
“If it was off, it would be 2,100 (gallons per minute) coming out of the lake, so it’s helping,” Van Horn said.
Duncan said the energy-intensive process comes at a high cost to the agency.
“We don’t like to because it’s expensive and just money out of our pocket,” he told the Moab City Council on Tuesday, June 26.
But it has no other choice this year.
“Because otherwise, the lake will go dry soon,” Duncan said.
This week, the GWSSA hired an electrician to look at one of its other dormant wells. If the agency can bring that well online, Wilson said the GWSSA board will have to sit back and make some decisions about the possibility of adopting more restrictions on water usage.
“But until that well’s on, we’re not going to make any (decisions), because we don’t know if the well is going to work, so give these guys a week to get things turned up,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
If there’s an upside, it’s still on the horizon: Wilson ended his remarks on an optimistic note, telling the GWSSA board that an El Niño weather pattern has descended on the Southwest, increasing the odds of a wet monsoon season.
“That typically bodes for a wetter than average summer, fall (and) winter,” he said. “Not this week, but yeah …”
Heavy rains have already soaked parts of the Texas Panhandle, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and Van Horn is hopeful that the monsoons will arrive in Spanish Valley in the coming weeks.
“If we get those rains in July, our situation could improve, and I hope it does,” she said. “The lake levels would come up, and folks wouldn’t have to water as much.”
Lowest level in five years, as GWSSA works to bring more water sources online
“If we don’t do something, agriculture in this valley will be nonexistent after this season … So we’re going to make an effort to get something going here.”