Water district taps into federal funding to aid in drought planning

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Water District is getting $123,000 from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to aid with community drought planning.

The Virgin River flowing through the high mountain desert, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, St. George News

The Bureau announced Wednesday that it was providing over $800,000 to various entities and municipalities in California, Nebraska and Utah to develop a drought contingency plan or update an existing plan.

“These drought plans will help regions and communities plan for and build long-term resiliency to drought,” the press release states.

The water district is receiving $122,912, which will be matched by the district and enable the hiring of a consultant who will review the drought plans created by the county’s municipalities.

“Right now, every city has a drought plan in place,” Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told St. George News. “And what this funding is going to do is allow us to hire a consultant to help ensure the all of these cities’ drought plans are coordinated, and just look at those drought plans to see if they are robust enough.”

The funding is being made available as part of Reclamation’s Drought Response Program, a part of WaterSMART. The program supports President Joe Biden’s new Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad as it increases resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The entrance to the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George, Utah, Nov. 26, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The drought contingency planning process is structured to develop proactive monitoring for early drought recognition, identify area-specific impacts, and prioritize actions to mitigate and protect the area when drought occurs.

Mounting drought worries have been compound by the 2020-21 winter season not being as wet as hoped, which resulted in low snowpack this year. This follows 2020, which was counted as Utah’s driest year on record.

The increasing severity of the drought is a grave concern for county and state officials. Due to the lack of snowpack from this winter, Gov. Spencer Cox issued a state of emergency declaration in mid-March which will allow communities, farmers and others in drought-ravaged counties to apply for federal aid during what is anticipated to be another bone-dry year.

Iron County officials have also begun to encourage residents to adopt water-saving measures as the drought continues to worsen, while both state and local fire managers are worried the annual fire season has become an all-year event due to how extremely dry the region has become.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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