During one of the most intense summers in recent years, record breaking temperatures are being reported throughout the nation. Portland, Oregon's public transportation was partially suspended and photos of melted power cables surfaced on Twitter.
In Utah, the Utah Division of Water Resources reports that 98% of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. In 2020, Utah recorded a record hot and dry year that left soils extremely arid. During the water year, which runs from October to September, there was approximately 17 inches of precipitation. Utah is used to about 27 inches of precipitation. Because the soil is so dry and since there was less precipitation than usual, there has been less runoff to fill our streams, replenish aquifers and recharge our reservoirs.
Deputy director of the Division of Water Resources, Candace Hasenyager, said that Utahns should be concerned when it comes to the water supply. Utahns are being told to reduce watering their lawns to twice a week, three times a week for southern Utah where the climate is considerably warmer, in order to use less water.
“That's really the gist," Hasenyager said. "Save as much water as possible for tomorrow, really, or the next day. We all should be concerned with how our water situation is and being able to reduce our use as a drought response action." Hasenyager also said, "In addition to that, we also have a long term conservation ethic that we're trying to really change the way we use water in Utah, that goes from how we develop water, creating flexibility to have water banks where you can lease water for different users throughout a system.”
Hasenyager said Utah has a very comprehensive collection of water data that shows how much water is used in various categories including municipal, industrial, residential, commercial and agriculture. Using this data we can find out how much water the average person in Utah utilizes.
“On average, per person, we use about 221 gallons per capita per day," said Hasenyager, "and this is from 2019. So if you look at that, an average household has about 2.9 people. So approximately 640 gallons per day per household. And if you look over a year, that's two hundred and thirty three thousand and six hundred gallons.”
Hasenyager contiued and said, “This is why we say water less is because about two thirds of our water use is used outdoors on our lawns and gardens. So it's really important, especially during this time of drought, that we reduce our outdoor use, because it's going to save the most water.”
Salt Lake Community College recently reduced their water use by 31% and have changed different areas of their campus to rock gardens and added trees and shrubs that are more suited to the harsher weather. Haysenyager says this is something more homeowners should be considering in order to use less water.
“It is really important we grow, that we are able to reduce that outdoor use and we're not saying lawns are bad. Let's just be intentional with them. Let's put them where they matter, right?" said Hasenyager. "Look at your yard. And if the only time you walk on it is when you mow it, that probably shouldn't be grass. Grass is good and has really great benefits. We just need to really make it a smaller part of our landscape," said Hasenyager.
Marketing Director for Chanshare Sod Farms, Eric Marble, says it isn’t necessarily wise to simply take out greenscapes in order to conserve water.
"When you're taking greenscapes out, in order to conserve water, you're kind of ignoring some of the benefits," Marble said. "And you're getting into unintended consequences. Anytime you have greenscapes, they produce oxygen, and they sequester carbon dioxide. And so one of the things that happens if you take out greenscapes, is that natural filtration that happens in the air because of greenscapes, is minimized.”
Marble said greenscapes also help to filter out chemicals and toxins in the water that will be carried to underwater aquifers; greenscapes can help to reduce the temperature around buildings as well.
Marble further commented people can conserve water by removing the amount of green in their landscapes but suggests that homeowners do so within reason. He said that often the side of the house is narrow and more difficult to water efficiently and recommends that people rather put pathways instead.
"Take a look at the way that you're using your landscape and make it functional for you and for your family. For some families. Maybe it means that they need to have a much bigger lawn area for other families, they can reduce their lawn areas to just a little patch of green or whatever it may be." Marble said. "But just make it functional for you. And by doing that, you're naturally going to save water, you're naturally going to save time, you're naturally going to create a landscape, which is perfectly suited for you.”
Marble also said that Utahans can still have a green yard while watering less because Kentucky Bluegrass, a common grass used throughout Utah, doesn’t require that much water when correct care is taken. Both Marble and Hasenyager recommend listeners to check out slowtheflow.org and localscapes in order to learn more about conserving water and better yard care practices.