Brigham Young University recently announced the completion of a five-year smart irrigation project that is set to reduce water consumption on campus by 20% to 50%. With current drought conditions, the university is trying to conserve water while professors speak out about climate conditions and how locals can help.
Other work at BYU over the past years has included converting landscape sprinklers to non-potable water, xeriscaping on campus, using compost to reduce water usage in flower beds, reducing water usage from faucets and toilets, and communicating with the campus community about the school’s efforts.
“In response to the governor’s declaration of drought across Utah, BYU Grounds will slow the revival of lawn areas from dormancy,” a message to the campus community said on May 5. “Grounds has worked diligently to check and repair all irrigation systems before beginning irrigation schedules. They will monitor drought conditions and conserve precious resources while maximizing their water access.”
Dr. Matt Bekker, a professor of geography who oversees BYU weather data reported to the national weather service, uses tree rings to reconstruct what past droughts have looked like, then gaining a perspective on how past years relate to the current climate.
Bekker pointed to the severity of the drought right now, citing that Lake Powell and Lake Mead are expected to be at record lows by the end of the summer.
“We hardly ever get any precipitation, relevantly most of Utah, once we get to mid-June, so we don’t expect to see much from here at least until the end of July, we might get a little bit of moisture with the North American monsoon that time of year but that is pretty variable also,” Bekker said. “The outlook isn’t good for the rest of the summer and that is why you would expect Powell, Mead and other reservoirs to continue to go down for the summer. The hotter conditions will just evaporate more of that water away.”
When asked about what has led to the current conditions in the Beehive State, Bekker said that the last two years have been really dry.
On a broader scale, when looking back 20 years, the state has seen many consecutive dry years with the occasional wet year mixed in. While people may say the drought was over, which it might have been for that time period, Bekker said the state is experiencing what some refer to as a mega-drought.
The 20-year drought has been continually taxing the water supply in Utah.
“It’s not just the last two years, it’s about the last 20 years which some people call a mega-drought,” Bekker said. “A drought of a given magnitude worse than what we have seen in the instrumental record, that lasts at least 19 to 20 years. That’s usually how it is defined.”
With regards to tips for people looking to conserve water, Bekker added that most of the efforts should be taken outdoors, making sure to water plants and lawns in the morning or evening.
Watering during the middle of the day would see more water being evaporated due to the hot temperatures. Another way to limit water consumption is xeriscaping, replacing more water-demanding landscapes with drought-resistant landscaping.
But Bekker said it doesn’t just start with homeowners, it’s about everyone doing their part to help.
“We need help all up and down the line here, homeowners, businesses, agriculture, local and state legislatures,” Bekker said.
For more resources for water conservation, Bekker suggested people visit the Division of Water Resources website, water.utah.gov, or contact a local water conservancy district along the Wasatch Front.