Water Quality and Hydrology

Water quality and hydrology are two distinct but inherently related components of water. Hydrology characterizes the timing (when water is available), distribution, and flow of water across the human and natural landscape. Water quality describes the condition (physical, chemical, and biological) of water with respect to specific use, such as culinary water supply, aquatic wildlife, or agriculture. Water quality is highly affected by flow and timing with the poorest water quality occurring during low flow events.

Related resource topics for county planning include:

Map of Data

Download mxd The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information
Water Quality

Best Management Practices

Appropriate best management practices (BMPs) to prevent water pollution are extremely varied and depend on the specific land use context in which they apply. BMPs are the primary methods used to control NPS pollution. Other guidelines for BMPs specific to water resources within the Wasatch Front area have been developed by various organizations. Many of these guidelines are focused on practices that slow runoff and create filters to prevent pollutants from entering waterbodies or aquifers. [7, 8, 9, 10]


  • Maintain conservation tillage and crop residues after crop harvest to maintain cover  and stabilize soil
  • Manage fertilizer application to minimize transport of nutrients away from desired targets
  • Manage pesticide applications to minimize transport of chemicals away from desired targets
  • Conservation buffers around stream channels and waterbodies
  • Irrigation efficiency to reduce erosion
  • Erosion and Sediment control to prevent sediment entering stream channels and waterbodies
  • Safe storage and handling of fertilizer, pesticides, and petroleum

Animal Operations

  • Control runoff
  • Proper waste storage and confinement
  • Proper nutrient management through Nutrient Management Plans (NMP)
  • Enable UPDES permits to medium and large confined animal operations


  • Control grazing intensity to maintain cover and protect the soil
  • Manage grazing in the riparian zone to minimize streambank damage, overgrazing, and animal waste

Urban Stormwater

  • Construction Sites  
    • Preserve existing vegetation wherever possible
    • Construction phasing to prevent widespread disturbance of vegetation and soils
    • Use sediment traps at construction entrances to remove sediment from vehicle tires
    • Install silt fences or coir fiber roll to trap sediment
    • Another useful BMP is redirecting water away from site.
  • Industrial and Municipals Sites
    • Vehicle cleaning with drainage to sanitary sewer
    • Detention/retention/infiltration basins
    • Storm drain inlet protection
    • Minimize storm water drainage
    • Fugitive dust suppression
    • Secondary Containment
  • Residential Areas
    • Maintain vegetative ground cover and mulch to minimize storm water drainage
    • Water and sediment containment basins
    • Pet waste ordinance
    • Street cleaning
    • Use fertilizer and pesticides at appropriate time and amounts
    • Education to prevent people from dumping substances into storm drains

Forest Roads

  • Minimize number and size of roads
  • Locate roads on well-drained soils, use drainage systems on roads over 10%
  • Maintain trees and shrubs as base of road slope to filter and trap sediment

Abandoned Mines

  • Manage Runoff
  • Stabilize fine soil
  • Trap mobilized particles
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
  • Surface Mining Control Reclamation Act

Assisting Agencies and Contacts

Economic Considerations
  • In 2011, fishing Utah’s lakes, streams, and rivers brought in $259 million. This includes the cost of equipment and multipliers like lodging, retail purchases, and dining in restaurants. Fishing relies on good water quality and hydrology.[11]
  • A 2012 study of outdoor recreation found that $1.2 billion was spent for water related activities in Utah.[12]
  • It is much more cost effective to protect the water at its source and prevent contamination than to treat it in a wastewater treatment plant. “Nationwide, every $1 spent on source water protection saves an average of $27 in wastewater treatment costs.”[13]
  • Prepare60, a center established by four water conservancy districts in Utah, published a 2014 report illustrating that $17.9 billion spent on water infrastructure maintenance alone enables $5.4 trillion in on-going economic activity. An investment in water resources of $15 billion would create 930,000 new jobs, $93 billion in incremental economic output, and $71 billion in additional personal income. [14]

Impact Considerations

Water is critical for the development of communities and life in general. However, the amount of water available at a specific area may be limited and changes depending on climate conditions and seasonality. Furthermore, human related factors can seriously affect water quality.

The Utah Division of Water Resources projects that statewide demand for water will outstrip the currently developed water supply in about 25 years. This will require a strategy that may include conservation efforts, developing local water supplies, and the major development of new sources of supply.

Water use data is required by the state every five years; however, to improve local government’s’ ability to forecast water needs, a 2015 audit recommended that the state collect water use data annually. [15]

When deciding how water should be used, it is important to know the returns from different water uses. Generally, water that is used for municipal and industrial purposes yields a higher economic value than water used for agricultural purposes. “This would suggests that increases in water production from watersheds serving urban areas are likely to have relatively high returns, while water increases used for irrigation use will have relatively low returns.” [16]

A 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers’ report gave Utah’s Drinking Water and Supply a “C” and its Wastewater and Stormwater a “C+”.  The report recommended that old underground water and sewer pipes be scheduled for replacement. Their useful life is only 50 to 70 years. Waiting until the pipes fail is a more expensive and environmentally costly option. Public health should be the biggest consideration. [17]

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
PRISM Climate Group
Database for precipitation and temperature. Useful in determining which precipitation zone an area is located in.Variable4-km grid resolutionPrism Climate Group
Oregon State University
Water Quality Assessment Units
DWQ assessment units. Data contains assigned beneficial use categories20101:24,000Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
Stream Monitored Sites
Point file representing DWQ stream monitoring locations20071:24,000Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
Monitored Lakes
Point file representing lakes monitored by DWQ for water quality20101:24,000Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
Stream Gauges
Stream Gage Locations9/30/2011UnknownUnited States Geological Survey
Surface Water Protection Zones (Protected Data, Contact DEQ using webmap below to access).
Administrative protective zones placed around culinary water sources to protect groundwater quality.UnknownUnknownUtah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Drinking Water
Regulated discharge locations 2015UnknownUtah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
Drinking Water Source Protection Zones (Protected Data, Contact DEQ using webmap below to access).
Administrative protective zones placed around culinary water wells to protect groundwater quality.UnknownUnknownUtah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Drinking Water
Groundwater Discharge
Permitted groundwater discharges2015UnknownUtah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
USGS Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD)
Watershed Boundary (a.k.a Hydrologic Unit)10/23/20151:24,000United States Geological Survey
Aquifer Recharge
Groundwater recharge and discharge areasAugust 2011UnknownUtah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Drinking Water
Snowtel Sites

Recent and historic precipitation recordsUnknownUnknownUSDS NRCS National Water and Climate Center
USGS National Hydrography Dataset (NHD)
(AGRC) , (USGS) , (USGS)
Lakes, Rivers, Streams, & SpringsAGRC download 1/18/2013;
USGS download 10/15/2015;
National Map Service Live Data;
1:24,000United States Geological Survey


  1. Western Regional Climate Center. 2002. Climate of Utah. Accessed 2/6/16.
  2. Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 2015. Utah Wildlife Action Plan, Draft Version 6-4-2015.
  3. Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands. 2014. GSL Comprehensive Management Plan.  
  4. Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Division of Water Quality. 2014. Integrated Report: Assessment Methods.
  5. Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Division of Water Quality. 2014. Nonpoint Source Management Plan for Abandoned Mines in Utah.
  6. Wasatch Front Regional Council. 2012. (Re)Connect: The Wasatch Front Green Infrastructure Plan.
  7. Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Division of Water Quality. 2013. Utah Statewide Nonpoint Source Pollution Management Plan.
  8. Jordan River Commission. 2013. Best Practices for Riverfront Communities.
  9. Salt Lake County. 2014. Stormwater Best Management Practices.
  10. Johnson, C. and S. Buffler. 2008. Riparian Buffer Design Guidelines For Water Quality And Wildlife Habitat Functions On Agricultural Landscapes In The Intermountain West. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. January.
  11. Kim, M. and P.M. Jakus. 2013. The Economic Contribution and Benefits of Utah’s Blue Ribbon Fisheries. Utah State University, Center for Society, Economy, and the Environment Research Report #4, Feb. 27.
  12. Southwick Associates. 2013.  The Economic Contributions of Outdoor Recreation: Technical Report on Methods and Findings.
  13. Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality. 2013. Fact Sheet: Nutrient Pollution in Utah.
  14. Aguero, J. 2014. Utah’s Water Dependent Economy. A Prepare60 Report.
  15. State of Utah, Office of the Legislative Auditor General. 2015. A Performance Audit of Projections of Utah’s Water Needs. Report to the Utah Legislature, Number 2015.01. May.
  16. Mohammed and Tarboton. 2008. Watershed Management and Water Production Study for State of Utah: A Report for the Utah Governor’s Public Lands Office. Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah Water Research Laboratory, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.
  17. American Society of Civil Engineers. 2015. Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure.