Most of Utah is in a serious drought as persistent dry weather worsens historic conditions |

Most of Utah is in a serious drought as persistent dry weather worsens historic conditions

Nearly all of the state is classified as a severe or extreme drought, the second- and third-worst categories

The low level Provo river wanders through the mud flats toward the Jordanelle Reservoir, looking west from the Rock Cliffs section of Jordanelle State Park with Bald Mountain at Deer Valley in the distance.
Park Record File Photo

All eyes are on the American West as dry weather exacerbates harsh conditions and impacts the Utah’s natural resources, leaving nearly all the state in a severe drought.

Around 99% of the state is considered to be in a severe or extreme drought, the second and third-worst categories, according to a report from the Utah Division of Water Resources. Although the conditions are better overall than this time last year – when more than half of Utah was in exceptional drought, which is the worst category – the enduring dry spell has caused reservoir storage to drop significantly.

“Our lands are tinder dry, and with May and June forecasted to be hotter and drier than previous years, we are also gearing up for a challenging wildfire season,” said Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources in a media release. “We need people to continue to conserve to stretch our limited water supply and exercise good Fire Sense to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.”

As desert-like conditions are expected to persist, water officials are preparing for a difficult summer between the lack of water and the increased risk of wildfires as the drought creates more fuel to burn. There have been 97 wildfires in the state this year, 88 of which have been human caused, that burned around 256 acres, according to the Division of Water Resources.

Water officials said the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District has hardly received any new water storage over the past two years and little more is expected this year. Utah’s reservoirs are also 10% lower than they were this time last year, according to the Division of Water Resources.

Twenty-two of the largest 45 reservoirs in Utah are below 55% capacity and overall statewide storage is at 60% capacity. Last year, reservoirs were around 67% capacity. As of May 4, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 52% of capacity while the Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 81%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley was at 65%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 54% capacity.

The statewide snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water there would be if the snowpack melted, is 12 inches compared to an average of 16 inches. Water officials said this is 75% of the median peak per water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Unseasonably warm conditions also caused the snowpack to peak earlier than it usually does, around March 22.

Although the early season snowmelt caused soil moisture to increase this year, which would help usher spring runoff to reservoirs rather than underground, the below-average snow will likely cause streamflow to be reduced, which means water will have a harder time reaching the state’s reservoirs.

Water officials said 56 of 96 measured streams are flowing below normal and five are experiencing record lows.

The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District reduced how much water will be delivered to contract holders this year, water officials said, to lessen the impact on the district’s storage reservoirs. According to the Division of Water Resources, the conservancy district is planning to purchase 5,000 acre-feet of Echo shares from users on the Provo River and about 14,000 acre-feet from Deer Creek water users for the Weber Basin’s reservoirs.

In April, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District announced water restrictions were likely coming this summer, and the Mountain Regional Water Special Service District, which serves western Summit County and sources most of its water from the Weber Basin, said it would follow the lead.

The water district adopted watering restrictions during an April 21 meeting, which coincided with a state of emergency issued by Gov. Spencer Cox addressing Utah’s drought conditions. The restrictions include delaying outdoor watering until June 1, watering just twice a week and ensuring new landscaping adheres to the current restrictions.

Customers are also asked to water only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and to limit watering to 20 minutes for pop-up sprayers, 40 minutes for rotary sprayers and 60 minutes for drip lines. The Mountain Regional Water Special Service District may impose fines if the restrictions are not followed.

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