Drought Forces Southern Utah Communities to Cope

May 19, 2014

Monticello usually relies on runoff from the Abajo Mountains for much of its water, but this warm, dry year the runoff has been weak -- and it's the third year in a row. City leaders are hoping to get two new wells online, plus they've instituted a new conservation program.
Monticello usually relies on runoff from the Abajo Mountains for much of its water, but this warm, dry year the runoff has been weak -- and it's the third year in a row. City leaders are hoping to get two new wells online, plus they've instituted a new conservation program.
Credit Crazy Sally / Flickr Creative Commons

Springtime is runoff time in Utah, and peak runoff is expected in the Cottonwood canyons in the next week or two. But mountains in southern parts of the state have already shed what little moisture they had.

In southeastern Utah, the town of Monticello is looking for ways to cope as it heads into its third year of drought.

It’s digging two new underground wells, one near the golf course that should be online next month and the other by the airport that should be done by the end of summer. The Community Impact Board is covering the community’s costs with a $1.4 million grant.

“Water is always, always the biggest challenge in this area,” says Greg Westfall, Monticello’s city manager.

“And we’re working on doing everything we can.”

Westfall says the city is also promoting conservation by metering secondary water, the untreated water that people use for their gardens and lawns. 

“The community is very willing to conserve,” he says, “and they understand the area of the country that they live in and that water is the most important resource we have.”

The latest water supply outlook shows that many other communities south of Interstate-70 are struggling with water this spring. In southeastern Utah, the snow-water equivalent is just 27 percent of normal. In the western corner, it’s 23 percent of normal.

“It’s a pretty strong north-to-south gradient in the state,” says Randy Julander of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The further north you go, the better the water supplies conditions are. The further south you go, they become very bad very quickly. You look at it pragmatically, and you say agriculture’s just really going to take a beating this year.”

On average, he says, reservoirs statewide are at 68 percent of normal this year. That’s slightly lower than last time at this year.