Low water levels are pictured at Echo Reservoir, north of Coalville, on Thursday, May 6. Utah’s reservoir system has fallen below 50%, but experts say they’re about to fill again thanks to recent monsoon rains. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY – The water year in Utah’s capital has fallen at least 4Â½ inches below the 30-year normal for the second year in a row and the third time in the past four years, sign of the drought that still persists in the State and the West. Region.
But unlike the end of the water year 2020, there is renewed optimism in Utah as the new water year approaches. This is because the monsoon patterns returned to Hive State last summer, closing water year 2021 at the end of summer – in the hope that a good fall and winter for beginning water year 2022 can help replenish drying reservoirs across Utah.
“We have been the beneficiaries of incredible monsoon humidity over the past two months … while this has no impact on our reservoirs at the moment, it will have an impact on our reservoirs next spring,” said Governor Spencer Cox said in his monthly media briefing Thursday.
Review of the year of water 2021
Utah’s New Water Year began on Friday.
Jordan Clayton, the Utah Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told KSL-TV that it appears the hydrologic year 2021 ended at about 77 percent of average precipitation, pushing it to the bottom 10th percentile of all the time.
While calculations are still ongoing for the statewide 2021 collective water year, preliminary figures are available for Salt Lake City. According to data from the National Weather Service, 10.98 inches of rain was recorded at Salt Lake City International Airport, making 2021 the 17th driest year of water in the 147 years the agency has followed. city ââdata.
The water year 2021 fell to 4.54 inches below the normal of 15.52 inches established between 1991 and 2020. Interestingly, it almost mirrored the total for the water year 2020, ending at 0.02 inches. in advance.
The late summer rains ultimately kept the water year from ending near the bottom of the city’s record books. About a fifth of Salt Lake City‘s entire 2021 water year comes from August alone, which is normally the city’s second driest month of the year.
The Cedar City Weather Service station received 7.39 inches, which, despite flash flooding in the area this summer, is still more than 3 1/2 inches below normal.
Since the Water Year begins on October 1, which is usually when snow begins to pile up in the mountains, the Water Year 2021 has got off to a rough start across the state. For example, there was only 0.62 inches of rain in the first three months of the 2021 water year in Cedar City; in Salt Lake City, it was 1.31 inches, more than 2.6 inches shorter than the city’s collective October, November and December normal.
It was bad because Utah’s soil moisture levels had already fallen to an all-time high of 24.9% on September 30, 2020, due to an unusually dry spring and summer throughout. ‘State. This meant that any rain or snow collected during the winter and spring of last year finally went to nature trying to recharge the groundwater and did not end up in the reservoirs as it should have.
“Because we had drought conditions in the fall, we had very little snow and the little snow we had – due to the moisture content so low – went straight into the ground,” said Cox said.
After a below-average winter and spring, soil moisture levels fell to their lowest ever recorded in June, he added.
This is one of the main reasons why reservoir levels statewide are at 47% of their capacity before the water year 2022, up from 67% in the year 2021. , according to data from the Utah Department of Natural Resources. They list 17 of Utah’s 42 largest reservoirs at 20% or less capacity, while 13 others are between 21% and 40% full, including Lake Powell at 30% – an all-time low.
âIt’s pretty low for this time of yearâ¦ but it’s not the worst they’ve ever been,â Clayton said. “So again, that sounds bad, but not the worst.”
Why the year of water 2022 is starting in a better position
The monsoons that have arrived in Utah – mainly in July and August – have not solved the reservoir problem or canceled the drought. According to the US Drought Monitor, about 88% of Utah remains in “extreme” drought and all areas of the state are still listed as at least in “severe” drought at the start of the year. water 2022.
However, the monsoons, which Clayton described as “exceptionally strong this year,” have reduced the risk of forest fires in Utah and have also laid the groundwork for reservoirs to be refilled if Utah is able to receive one. good snow season in the new hydrologic year. The Utah Department of Natural Resources reports that Utah soil moisture levels have returned to 36%, which is much closer to the 37.8% average for this time of year.
This means that more of the water from rain and snowmelt will likely end up in state reservoirs and not recharge groundwater.
âIf we can enter our winter snow season with average or above average soil moisture, we will have better delivery of this spring snowmelt,â Clayton said.
For the start of the snow season, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center outlook for the first three months of Utah hydrologic year 2022 calls for warmer-than-average temperatures in Utah and drier than average precipitation for most of the state. Part of northeast Utah is listed as “of equal chance” during this time, which means it’s unclear whether it will be drier or wetter than average for three months. Projections are based on emerging atmospheric trends and estimates, not on nowcasting.
Where the Utahns made the difference
While there are signs that the 2022 Water Year will be good for the state’s reservoirs, Clayton is also quick to point out that it is unlikely to solve all of the water problems in the state. Utah.
“It will take more than a year of above average snowfall to get us back on track,” he said.
We really hope we don’t have severe drought conditions as we approach next year; but even though we have an above average snowpack, it will take a few years to replenish the water that was lost during this drought.
-Gov. Spencer cox
This is where drought mitigation measures in the water year 2021 have helped. Cox said state officials expected reservoir levels to reach record levels across the state this year, but that was not the case as residents, businesses and government entities have found ways to reduce their water consumption.
The governor said “billions and billions and billions of gallons” have been saved this year because residents have cut back on outdoor watering and wasted water. Since there is no definitive way to know how successful the 2022 snow season is, these reductions are essential.
“This has made it possible that if we have drought conditions that continue (until) next year, we will have potable water available,” he said. âWe really hope we don’t have severe droughts as we approach next year; but even though we have an above average snowpack, it will take a few years to replenish the water that was lost during this drought. Us We still have a long way to go, but I can say that we are breathing a little better now than just two months ago. “
With more and more people relocating to the state, creating an increased need for a water supply, Cox added that he plans to work with the Utah Legislature on some key issues regarding the water during future legislative sessions. These problems include dividing water along the Colorado River basin and helping to drain the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.
Contributing: Jed Boal, KSL-TV