It has been a wet, wet spring in Cache Valley. We skied until mid-April. We couldn’t plant our gardens until June. The neighbors said it’s the wettest spring they can remember, but water trouble is bubbling up already for some of the municipalities in Cache Valley. It made me wonder, how is it possible to have a wet winter and still have snowpack in the mountains, but still have water shortages in the valley?
North Logan City sent an insert with June’s utility billing which clearly explained the conundrum. “Our water supply and infrastructure are falling behind our expanding water demands. In order to meet these new demands, the city needs to invest resources in finding new water sources, creating additional storage, and replacing our aging infrastructure. More than anything, we need users to conserve water.”
The answer lies in the culinary water infrastructure. Though all water is created equal, the water that falls from the sky doesn’t necessarily translate into water that comes from the tap or the hose.
Culinary water is gathered, held and treated before it can be used. Municipalities throughout Cache Valley have different ways of processing culinary water so it is safe for any purpose, including drinking. Depending on the city, the facility, and the number of residents, culinary water is already scarce. To make matters worse, most people only have the option of using treated culinary water for all uses, including keeping lawns and gardens green.
Nathan Daugs, the district manager for Cache Water District explained, “There are 130 something canal companies in the valley. Some of those do have small secondary systems for residents coming off of them. But the vast majority of the people in our county do not have an option of using irrigation water for their lawns. Most people are using culinary water.”
According to the Utah Division of Water Resources Conservation Program, a major cause of culinary water scarcity is perpetual overwatering. The division’s website states, “A typical Utah home will use twice as much outdoor water as necessary.”
Daugs said, “That’s probably true, but in Cache County, we don’t know because it’s not metered separately.” Most people don’t have a different meter for indoor and outdoor water use. “That’s the big question,” Duags said. “Are we using too much and how do we know?”
Amanda Pieper can give residents the answer as the administrator to the Water Check program. An intern with USU Extension and the Cache Water District, Pieper can use tools and software to measure how much water residents are using for their lawns. Then, she creates an email for each tested property to inform the owner of the result and what steps they should be taking to conserve water.
The purpose of the Water Check program is to analyze residents lawns and inform them how much they actually need to water. Pieper explained how Water Check works. “We see if anything is broken or misaligned and we check how much water the system puts out over time. That will tell how long someone should be watering and how often.”
Pieper has found that many people are overwatering because they think they have to. “In the heat of summer we only need to water the lawn two to three times a week at most,” she said.
“The goal of this Water Check program is to educate homeowners on how to save money on their lawn and keep it healthy year round,” Pieper said. “A lot of people don’t realize they can cut down on water use, save money, and still have a nice green lawn in the summer.”
The Utah Division of Water Resources outdoor watering guide suggests lawns need to be watered 20-40 minutes per session. The lawn watering guide, which is updated weekly, confirms Pieper’s claim that lawns should be watered about twice a week.
Daugs said it is important to conserve water even when there seems to be plenty. “We don’t want to give people the false sense of security that because we had a wet spring you can use all the water you want. We are still in a dry state,” he said. “Just because we have a wet year and a wet spring, we still have to treat that water to use it.”
The recent tiered water changes in some cities’ water bills are part of a statewide mandate to conserve water. In the tiered system, higher water use is increasingly more expensive in higher volumes. People who are conscious of high utility bills will take steps to conserve.
Daugs suggested there are other programs, like the Water Check program, that should be partnered with tiered billing to maximize conservation efforts. “Mostly it’s just education – educate people on how much water they should be using on the lawn,” he said. “Some people don’t care how much their bill is. If that’s the case, tiered rates aren’t going to fix that, but education would help.”
Though educating the masses can be difficult, resources are readily available. USU Extension offers pamphlets on water conservation. The Water Check Program is free for locals who schedule an appointment through USU Extension at (435) 752-6263 and ask for Amanda. In addition, Cache Water District website has links to conservation partners like slowtheflow.org, which shows outdoor water saving tips and the lawn watering guide.
Having a wet spring has been a blessing for Cache Valley. Being water wise is a good way to ensure that there is enough water to go around the rest of the year.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.