Where Does Utah’s Drinking Water Come From?
Drinking water is an important part of maintaining your health, but it is crucial that the water you digest is clean. According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, there are over 1,800 drinking water sources here in Utah and over 970 public drinking water systems. These systems are rated by the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) to help ensure quality. 90% of our systems have an approved rating, and so our drinking water is pretty safe for the most part. Small systems that service about 3,300 or less people tend to be a little more risky as they may struggle to monitor frequency standards. You are more likely to see these small systems in small towns away from larger populations.
As you read this blog post, you’ll come across the various terms that describe how your water goes from the mountain tops to your faucet. To help you picture the process of where your water comes from, please check out this graphic we’ve made for you.
Now, let’s talk about where your drinking water comes from by sources.
Did you know that 80% of Utah’s population lives in the Salt Lake City area? That’s probably not too big of a shocker to you, but it’s important to note as we analyze where our water comes from. In Salt Lake City, only 10% of our drinking water comes from groundwater. The other 90% comes from our nearby Wasatch Mountain snowpack. This local resource is extremely important to our daily lives, and it is extremely important to have it so close by! In fact, it takes less than 24 hours for a drop of water to get from the top of the mountains to your water faucet.
Although it does snow in Utah, it is still a desert state. Because of this, the amount of precipitation that is received from snowpack varies throughout the state. This means that the water supply from the source may be greater in Salt Lake City than it would be in Moab or St. George. Due to our varying supply and our growing population, we have to rely on groundwater sources to make up the difference.
Watersheds are natural occurrences where water runoff is collected and drained at a common point. They’re also an important medium by which water goes from the mountains to our groundwater. These do not follow county or state lines, and so it’s very likely for states to be a part of multiple watersheds.
For example, Utah’s two major watersheds are the Great Basin and Upper Colorado. A small part of Southern Utah does get its water from the Lower Colorado watershed. Likewise, the Columbia River Basin watershed brings water to a small area of the northwestern part of the state. Just to show you how intertwined our continent’s watersheds are, the Colorado River watershed drains into the Gulf of California which is also known as the Sea of Cortez.
Yet, within our state there are 10 smaller watersheds within the major watersheds mentioned above. We’ve listed them out here by their names, but you’ll be sure to notice that their names go along with their associated surface water resource.
- Bear River Watershed
- Jordan River and Utah Lake Watershed
- Weber River Watershed
- Sevier River Watershed
- Cedar/Beaver River Watershed
- Uinta Basin Watershed
- Southeast Colorado River Watershed
- West Colorado River Watershed
- Lower Colorado River Watershed
- Great Salt Lake Watershed
Curious about your watershed?
Underneath the ground, there are cracks and spaces in the soil and rock beneath us. These are called aquifers and they allow for water to be stored naturally and for it to move as well. When snow melts on the mountain, it becomes water and drains down the mountain with the runoff and through the watersheds. Once it makes its way through the aquifers, it becomes groundwater. This groundwater is an important source of drinking water as well as the water we need to support our agriculture. It is becoming increasingly important as our population grows and as weather changes from year to year, impacting our snowpack.
To learn about the health of your local Utah groundwater, check out the Utah Water Science Center’s Groundwater Watch.
Concerned About Your Drinking Water?
It’s very important to make sure that your water is safe! Our local government is monitoring the water and is doing everything it can to make it safe to drink. However, that doesn’t mean that that is all that needs to be done. To make it safer and taste better, consider water purification. This will help remove any chlorine, arsenic, dissolved solids, and lead coming through your tap water. Utah’s water is also known for its level of hardness—or high amount of mineral content. If that is affecting your health or way of life in anyway, you may want to have a water softener installed. To see just how hard your drinking water is, make sure to check out our hard water tool.