Successive dry years creating ‘unprecedented situation’

SPRING CITY—Spring City and Horseshoe Irrigation held an emergency meeting on July 8 to address the worsening drought and to assert the importance of not overusing water.

The severity of this year’s drought is due, in part, to successive dry years, said Horseshoe Irrigation President Randy Strate in his presentation.

“We are in an unprecedented situation,” he said.

A map from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed a majority of the state, including the entirety of Sanpete County in an “exceptional” drought condition, meaning the most severe. 

He compared this year to the 2018 drought, when the city had a similar meeting.  But, the map showed, this year’s drought has a significantly larger portion of the state in the most severe category than in 2018. 

Strate said he guesses that, within the next week, the entire state will be in an exceptional drought.

Moisture in the city’s soil is currently at the lowest level ever recorded, Strate said, a problem foreshadowed by low snowfalls in 2020 and 2021. Strate also showed current photos of the city’s creeks, Oak Creek and Canal Creek, which feed water to the city’s irrigation ponds.

“Just because you can water for that long, doesn’t mean you have to.”

Mayor Cynthia DeGrey

Both creeks combined are getting less than 6 cubic feet per second (CFS) of water, he said. Normally, the figure would be over 100. Along with the already low water levels in the creek, Strate said that nearly 50 percent is lost to evaporation before it reaches the ponds. 

So far this year, the creeks have reached only half of what is considered good flow, and even that was for only about a week.  The city has had to put restrictions on secondary water use earlier than they ever have before. Even so, Strate there is an easy way to make sure the water can stay on.

“If everybody used what they’re allowed to use, we wouldn’t have to shut the water off,” he said.

Even on a good year, he said, the water begins to run out in late summer. Adhering to restrictions is always important, but especially in a severe drought, he said.

To help residents keep track of how much secondary water they are permitted to use at any given time, Horseshoe Irrigation’s website has a water use calculator, Strate said. 

To use the calculator, residents must input a number of water shares, how many gallons per minute (GPM) one sprinkler head produces and the amount of heads in the sprinkler system. In return, the calculator will tell residents the number of shares needed to run a seven GPM sprinkler head for 24 hours, the GPM per share, the number of heads the resident can run for 24 hours or the number of hours a resident can run their given sprinkler heads.

“Just because you can water for that long, doesn’t mean you have to,” said Mayor Cynthia DeGrey, in another attempt to urge residents to cut back on their usage.

Horseshoe Irrigation oversees nine systems in and around the city. The city and south fields systems have a combined total of almost 500 users, meaning any overuse will likely result in shutting off the water, as happened last week. 

A large concern for the city, as water becomes scarcer, is the potential for fires with no way to fight them.

Typically, when there is a fire, such as June’s Spring Fire, helicopters pull water from the city’s irrigation ponds. If the irrigation ponds dry up, firefighters may have to use the city’s culinary water in an emergency.

Regarding culinary water, DeGrey advocated for mindfulness and caution. The Spring City Cemetery is a large consumer of culinary water, using as much as 1 million gallons in one month, she said. The cemetery is going to cut back its use, which could affect the look of the grounds, but still encouraged others to do the same. 

The city’s culinary water is stored in tanks east of town. When the water level in the tanks gets below 11 feet, the city’s wells are triggered to come on and supplement, which usually doesn’t occur until late summer. The latest reading showed the tanks at 10.8 feet, DeGrey said. 

Although there are no current restrictions on culinary water use, Spring City residents have meters, making it easy for the city to see if anyone is using excessive amounts.  If the tanks maintain low levels, restrictions may be implemented. 

DeGrey also reported that the city’s hydroelectric plant, which provides power to residents, is currently shut off, awaiting repairs. Until the plant is fixed, the city is relying on Rocky Mountain Power, which comes at a high cost.

As residents work to conserve water, DeGrey said, power conservation should also be observed when possible.

DeGrey said she was confident in the city’s ability to keep the situations under control.

“We have a good pioneer spirit,” she said.