OGDEN -- It's not a problem yet, but if the coming winter is like the last one, water managers along the Wasatch Front could have to deal with having too much water.
That's not the spring runoff, either. They could have too much water in reservoirs today.
Seven years ago, with drought gripping Utah and surrounding states, this was an unimaginable situation.
From 2000 through 2004, reservoirs were half full, or less, at the end of the water year, which lasts until Sept. 30. For several of those years, the winter snow was so paltry, it barely filled up the reservoirs in the spring. Water along the Wasatch Front never ran out, because the reservoirs contain a two-year supply, but severe watering and irrigation restrictions were widespread.
Not this year.
As of Friday, Willard Bay was still 100 percent full, Pineview Reservoir was at 89 percent, Causey was at 97 percent, Echo was at 79 percent and East Canyon was at 93 percent.
Bear Lake rose 11 feet, "which is phenomenal," said U.S. Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney.
Lake Powell in Southern Utah seemed well on its way to drying up altogether. The Bureau of Reclamation says that trend has reversed. Lake Powell reached its peak on July 30 when it hit 3,660.9 feet above sea level, or 39.1 feet from full, holding 18.61 million acre-feet, or 76.5 percent of capacity.
That compares to 2010 when Lake Powell peaked at 3,638.8 feet above sea level, or 61.2 feet below full, on July 5.
That means this year's runoff was not only a lot more than last year's, but lasted a lot longer.
McInerney said the same thing went on along the Wasatch Front.
During the spring runoff, water and reservoir managers did a delicate dance of letting water out of the reservoirs as fast as they could without causing flooding. The idea was to use the reservoirs as shock absorbers, to keep runoff from flooding downstream cities. Nighttime releases made room for daytime snowmelt, and for the most part they were successful.
At the end of the runoff, the reservoirs were filled in anticipation that farmers and yard owners would use the water for irrigation. For much of the summer, that didn't happen.
Precipitation in the Bear and Weber river basins was nearly 150 percent of normal, and McInerney said it took until the end of July in some cases for all that to melt.
"Our last flood warning went until July 20 in the Duchesne basin," he said, and there was high water in some rivers into August. Fields in Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties were so wet that farmers were late getting crops in or had to replant, so it is only in the last three to four weeks that there has been much need for irrigation water.
Tage Flint, executive director of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said reservoirs are normally about 55 percent by the middle of October, and this year they're expected to exceed that level.
One of the district's smaller reservoirs, Smith & Morehouse, was even spilling over until a week ago.
McInerney said water managers will leave their reservoirs full for now. Nobody knows what the next winter will look like yet, but "if we start putting together early snowpack and have a wet fall, the question is do we have too much water?"
At that point reservoirs will have to release it to make room for the runoff, he said.
Flint said he won't be making any decisions about early releases until January at the earliest. The heavy river flooding this spring made a lot of people forget that, until January of this year, the mountain snow pack was actually below normal.
Great Salt Lake has risen because of this year's runoff, but McInerney said it is in no danger of flooding like the 1980s, when it peaked at 4,212 feet above sea level and flooded I-15, destroyed the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and encroached into Weber County.
As of Friday, Great Salt Lake was at 4,197 feet above sea level, slightly below its 1847-1986 average of 4,200 feet.