By Megan Hatch, Conservation Garden Park
This year Salt Lake will likely get its fifth white Christmas in a row—but climate data suggests we should enjoy it while we can. Around the state temperatures are rising and one day Utah’s white Christmases may become less frequent.
Since 1948, temperatures at the Salt Lake International Airport have increased an average of 3.7° F – which may not seem like much, but it can mean the difference between rain or snow during a Utah winter storm. Significant evidence for climate change locally has demanded a reexamination of the state’s current and future water supply. It may also warrant a look at how individual Utahns are using water at home.
More Rain, Less Snow:
As temperatures rise, Utahns can expect more rain and less snow, which doesn’t sound bad until you consider Utah’s reliance on snowpack. Like a giant frozen reservoir, snow across Utah’s mountain ranges slowly melts in spring and summer months, providing the great majority of the water supply for the Wasatch Front.
Long, Hot Summers:
Less snowpack coupled with warmer temperatures means earlier snowmelt – likely with a higher intensity and shorter duration than normal. This would create a run-off cycle that no longer coincides with normal irrigation seasons or water demand. Summers would not only be hotter, they could also be longer – further straining our water supply.
More Water Lost, More Water Used:
As water runs through Utah’s streams and rivers to collect in its reservoirs, rising temperatures will increase the rate at which it evaporates. Heat and evaporation rates will also increase the water needed by plants – both in nature and in residential landscapes.
What’s the Fuss?
Climate change means greater water demand and potentially less water supply. How much will our supply change? We don’t really know. Climate predictions for Utah indicate continued warming but show less certainty about precipitation. What we do know is that prehistorically, Utah experienced far more extensive droughts in terms of both duration and intensity than we have seen in recent history. Future drought cycles could be exacerbated by climate change.
Are We Doomed?
Drought stricken regions of California or Cape Town’s “Day Zero” can act as a warning for Utah, but there are things we can do that will keep our situation from getting that extreme. It’s possible to significantly reduce the amount of water Utah households need without drastically changing our way of life. Take Localscapes® for example – an approach to landscaping that is catching on statewide for its many benefits, including reduced yard maintenance, high curb appeal, and ease of design. It’s also waterwise. In Jordan Valley Water’s analysis of Localscapes, they concluded that if large-scale adoption of Localscapes is achieved, we could decrease per capita water use by 30% (using 2000 as the baseline year), even with changing climate conditions.
Free programs and rebates to help reduce water use are available to Utahns statewide at utahwatersavers.com.
Create an account today to access rebates for water-saving devices or to get paid for making changes to your landscape. Since Utah’s climate is changing, it’s time for us to change too.