By: Sawyer Smith

If there is one thing residents of Utah, and the surrounding Southwestern states, have realized over the last few years, it’s that this drought isn’t going anywhere. At least, not without some serious intervention from our local and federal governments. And I’m not going to mince words here—things are bad. 

LAke levels 2023

Image sourced from Lakesonline.com

I know just how disheartening it is every time a new report on water levels comes out. I also think many of us Utah natives experience a genuine pang of sadness every time we see those devastating pictures of the Great Salt Lake shrinking before our eyes. 

That said, in setting out to give an update on the drought situation in this beautiful state many people I know and love still call home, I wanted to also provide a little more insight into the ways you as an individual can help. 

I’m not interested in shifting the responsibility (or the blame) entirely onto the general public. I think that can serve as a distraction from the more significant threats to the environment, and you also don’t need me to tell you to shorten your showers and replace your lush green lawns with desert plants. I’m hoping, instead, to provide a little glimmer of hope, a productive place for everyone to channel their energy and emotions so that we don’t have to feel as powerless in the face of this ecological disaster. 

But first… the numbers. 

The Drought As It Stands Today 

U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions, Courtesy of Drought.gov

According to the most recent reports from Drought.gov, 100% of the state of Utah is currently listed as being “Abnormally dry”. 99.1% percent of the state is considered to be experiencing at least some type of drought, with the breakdown looking like this:

  • 89.6% of the state is experiencing at least “Severe Drought” 
  • 31.1% of the state is within the midst of an “Extreme Drought” 
  • 1.9% of the state (located right in the middle of Utah) is now experiencing “Exceptional Drought”

Over the last couple of years, during which time the drought in the Southwest was increasing in intensity and therefore was getting a lot more news coverage, Utah has often been labeled the biggest ‘water waster’ in the region. Utah also has the lowest water prices in the country, and obviously, these two facts combined spell disaster. There are some who dispute that first claim regarding Utah’s water usage (read more here), but regardless of whether or not Utah is the most wasteful, the state is still in desperate need of significant changes to the way it uses and distributes water. 

Ways to Get Involved

Before I list some of the lesser-known ways that individuals living in Utah might help protect the land from drought, I feel it’s obligatory to reiterate some of the statistics many of us have probably encountered before, just in case there is anyone who somehow hasn’t gotten the memo: 

  • It’s estimated that we can each cut down our water usage by up to 20% by installing water-efficient appliances and fixtures in our homes. 
  • Cutting your shower time by just a minute could cut down on your water use by up to 60 gallons a month. 
  • You can save up to 8 gallons of water by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth, and 10 gallons by turning off the tap while shaving. 
  • Outdoor water use (mostly watering lawns) accounts for roughly 30% of total household water usage, and the number can be as high as 60% of household water usage in arid regions. 

In short, take faster showers, stop leaving the tap on when you’re brushing your teeth, and never water your lawn during the hottest part of the day. 

For those of you who have already been taking all those precautions and are interested in what else you can do, here are a couple more steps you can take: 

  • Volunteer!

    • Utah Rivers Council, a group dedicated to “the conservation and stewardship of Utah’s rivers and sustainable clean water sources for Utah’s people and wildlife,” has many volunteer opportunities. “Whether you would like to help with outreach, events, a research project, or you’d like to chip in around the office, we want you to join us.” – Utah Rivers Council Website 
    • You can also Volunteer with the “organizers, artists, business owners, and concerned citizens working together to prevent ecosystem collapse at the Great Salt Lake,” by joining the Save Our Great Salt Lake team. Learn more about the work they are doing by checking out their volunteer page
  • Contact Local Legislators
    • This task may sound tedious, and maybe you’ve tried calling in the past and felt like it got you nowhere, but if enough people call and state their complaints, those seeking reelection in their district will eventually listen—if only so they don’t lose their seat next time their name is on the ballot. 
      • Not sure what to say when you call them? Here are some key points you can bring up provided to us by the experts: 
        • From the Utah Rivers Council: “Ask your legislators what water conservation legislation they are running. Ask your representatives if they support destructive projects like Bear River Development and the Lake Powell Pipeline over water conservation.” 
        • From the “Save Our Great Salt Lake” campaign: Ask your legislators if they are willing to “build on, prioritize, and fund HCR-10… HCR-10, a bill passed in the 2019 legislative session, provided recommendations for mitigating declining lake levels. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t go far enough and did not provide any direct legislative action.” 
  • Sign This Petition! 
    • The last thing on the list is by far the easiest task, and that’s because all the hardworking people from the group Save Our Great Salt Lake, have already done the heavy lifting. By signing the petition (and sharing it with your friends), you would be sending the message to those in charge that you want to see the real transformation, in the form of these seven clear, effective, and completely attainable changes to the state’s water management: 
  1. “Build on, prioritize, and fund HCR-10.” (For more on the bill details, click here
  2. “Reduce water diversion to the lake by 30%”
  3. “Oppose the Bear River Development Project” 
  4. “Require developers to report water usage”
  5. “Enforce mandatory water metering”
  6. “Put a tax on agricultural exports to make that a less desirable alternative”
  7. “Eliminate hidden property taxes paid to water districts and adjust water pricing to reflect the true cost” 

All this is to say—there are things we can do. The drought statistics outlined above may seem bleak, and the situation is dire, there’s no doubt about it. But there are people working day in and day out to make positive changes to save these precious ecosystems and protect Utah’s water sources. 

And we can all help them. 

Lastly, I’ll leave you with my own personal water-saving tip! As someone with long hair, the time it takes to shampoo and condition all the strands on my head is honestly ridiculous. I’ve started to wait longer in between washes, and also, in the last year, I’ve begun washing my hair in the bathtub, under the facet, not while I’m in the shower. This way, I can turn the water off while I’m lathering up the shampoo or waiting for the conditioner to soak in. I don’t know how much water I’m saving, but I know it’s a lot, and I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to realize this! 

Sawyer Smith WriterSawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.