Storms help quench Utah’s soil, but harsh conditions persist
Around 8% of the state is in an exceptional drought compared to 52% this time last year
The arrival of monsoon season has brought much-needed storms to Utah, but state water officials say conditions aren’t improving as much as usual because of the long-term drought and record high temperatures.
Recent precipitation has helped improve soil moisture across the state, which was trending slightly above normal for the end of July, according to a Utah Division of Water Resources drought report. Around 75% of the state is in extreme drought, the second-worst category. Nearly 8% of the state is in an exceptional drought, the worst category, compared to 52.3% at this time last year.
“Despite recent monsoons that have brought much-needed rain to some areas of the state, hot, bone dry conditions continue to bake our parched vegetation,” Joel Ferry, the acting executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said in a prepared statement.
Last winter’s snowpack was 25% below average, but the higher soil moisture levels helped direct spring runoff to the state’s reservoirs earlier this year. The Jordanelle Reservoir rose three times as much compared to last year because of the runoff, according to the drought report.
As of July 29, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 72% capacity while the Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 84%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley was at 98%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 72% capacity. The percentages remain comparable to this time last year.
While the flow helped fill the state’s reservoirs, levels remain low because of the impacts of last summer and the ongoing drought. Of Utah’s largest 45 reservoirs, 21 are below 55% capacity. Thirteen reservoirs were below capacity in June, and 22 were in May. Statewide storage is 54% capacity compared to around 63% in June.
Water officials anticipate streamflow levels will decline, and reservoir storage won’t increase until next year as the spring runoff period is nearly over. Five streams are flowing at record low levels, according to the Division of Water Resources. The Great Salt Lake on July 3 also dropped below a historic low set in October 2021.
Temperatures around the Great Salt Lake were also significantly higher than normal. The rest of Utah experienced above-average temperatures over the past 14 days, too.
As this week’s forecast calls for thunderstorms across the state, water officials hope the precipitation provides moisture to vegetation that would otherwise be fuel for a fire. There have been 642 fires in Utah this year. Of those, 351 have been human caused, which is down from 440 this time last summer.
“With temperatures in the triple digits and high winds, it doesn’t take much to spark a destructive wildfire. We need people to use good Fire Sense and help stretch our water supply,” Ferry said in a statement.
Utahns are encouraged to continue monitoring their water use as what is traditionally the hottest part of the year approaches.
While the governor touted state initiatives, members of the public questioned what Cox is doing to help with issues such as the labor shortage and affordable housing, open space, water and education.
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