Summit County, state head into an expected harsh, dry summer
Drought conditions throughout the state are comparable to this time last year
Utah is expected to become hotter and drier in the coming months as the summer shapes up to be similar to last year and the ongoing drought intensifies harsh conditions throughout the American West.
Nearly all of the state, 99%, is in a severe or extreme drought, the second and third-worst categories, according to a report from the Utah Division of Water Resources. Around 6% of the state is in an exceptional drought, the worst category, compared to approximately 64% this time last year.
Although the snowpack was low last winter, the higher levels of soil moisture helped ensure that Utah reservoirs received more spring runoff than last summer. Laura Haskell, a drought expert with the Utah Division of Water Resources, said reservoir storage levels are comparable to 2021.
Thirteen of Utah’s largest 45 reservoirs are below 55% available capacity – down from 22 in early May – and overall statewide storage is around 63% capacity, according to the Division of Water Resources. As of June 9, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 73% capacity while the Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 97%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley was at 104%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 87% capacity.
Spring runoff helped boost the figures since early May, but the bodies of water didn’t gain as much as officials hoped. Haskell compared the reservoirs to a bowl that’s being filled. She said the bowl will appear full toward the end of June, when the flow stops, and will continue to decline at a steady rate throughout the summer.
Officials expect reservoirs won’t fill as expected because the decreased snowpack caused lower than normal streamflow. Out of 99 measured streams, 61 are flowing below normal and four are flowing at record low conditions, according to the Division of Water Resources.
The harsh conditions are also disturbing the natural system, Haskell said. With hot temperatures and lower capacity streams, the water is warming up faster and causing fish to become stressed. The heat can also cause harmful algal blooms to form. Farmers and ranchers are similarly impacted by the drought. The Division of Water Resources report said as they cut back on water use, crop yields and feed availability for livestock will likely be scarce.
Fire danger also increases as dry conditions create more fuel to burn. Officials anticipate an active wildfire season and many state parks are already under fire restrictions. Soil moisture is decaying faster than usual this water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, which could also raise fire danger, the report stated. There have been 183 wildfires in the state this year, 152 of which have been human caused.
Water officials’ biggest concern is the long-term effects the drought may have on the state and its residents, Haskell said. While the state has an extensive history of persistent dry weather, the current situation has been ongoing since at least 2020. Some Utahns may have come to see this as the new normal, but, Haskell said, they still need to stay aware of their water use and make efforts to conserve.
And while Utah experienced some much-needed wet weather in recent weeks, it may not be enough to help combat the drought.
Haskell said the rainfall doesn’t usually increase reservoir storage, but stormy conditions help individuals cut back on their water use. People are less likely to use water for landscaping when there’s precipitation, which slows down use and aids in conservation efforts.
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