Strong 2018-2019 Utah snowfall doesn’t change the climate or drought conversation, experts say |

Strong 2018-2019 Utah snowfall doesn’t change the climate or drought conversation, experts say

Paddle boarders train on the Jordanelle Reservoir in 2018. The Jordanelle, located in Wasatch County close to Park City, is projected to reach full capacity this summer as a well-above-average snowpack melts.
Park Record File Photo

As Utah’s trees drink in the snowmelt from an outstanding winter for precipitation, officials say that the state is not out of the woods when it comes to drought and the effects of climate change.

The snowpack from a bountiful winter stands in stark contrast to the paltry powder of 2017-2018, but even as rivers rush, reservoirs fill up and the soil receives its moisture this summer in a way that it didn’t last year, Candice Hasenyager says that Utahns making use of the state’s water supply — which is to say, all of them — should continue to be mindful of their water usage.

“Even if we have one good water year, we definitely want to continue our water-wise practices by conserving water,” said Hasenyager, an assistant director of the planning branch at the Utah Division of Water Resources. “What we save today, it’ll benefit us next year, especially if we don’t have another good year.”

State snowpack totals for 2019 are “awesome” at more than 140 percent of average, Hasenyager said. Compared to the 60 percent figure of 2018, a result of the worst winter for precipitation in four decades, it’s a fortune of H2O.

The benefits of the higher snowpack total are tangible. There will be more available drinking water from the Wasatch watershed. Reservoirs that sat far below their waterline last year will fill. (The Jordanelle, for example, is projected to reach capacity.) Wildlife will flourish and rivers will run fast and cold.

Still, as the Wasatch and Uintas thrive, Hasenyager said, people should be careful of the hazards that a big snowpack presents. Those rushing rivers carry powerful currents, and mudslides and flooding pose an ever-present danger for those located downslope from the snowmelt.

Those hazards are made worse by the previous year’s lack of snowpack as well, such as the leftover effects from a historic summer for wildfires in the state.

“There have already been areas that have seen flooding or concerns about flooding, especially in areas that saw large burn scars last year,” she said.

Despite the snowpack, Gov. Gary Herbert’s drought declaration is still in effect, and as the earth’s atmosphere warms, one good year for powder hounds doesn’t indicate an easy time ahead, according to Hasenyager. In the Wasatch Back, climate change may result in increased wildfire danger as well as the threat of more flooding and slides as winters could swing wildly back and forth between feast and famine.

For 2019, at least, it’ll be a good year for taking advantage of Utah’s natural water supply.

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