homepage logo

Flood threat remains low as snowpack begins to melt, rivers swell with runoff

By Rob Nielsen - | May 2, 2024

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

The Weber River flows past the Ogden Kayak Park on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

What goes up must come down.

This includes the snowpack that has accumulated in the mountains of Weber County over the last few months. As spring begins to take hold and gives way to more constant warm weather, officials are taking stock of what this above-average winter will mean to area reservoirs and the rivers that drain them into the Great Salt Lake.

Scott Paxman, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District’s general manager, told the Standard-Examiner the area is past the peak for snowpack.

“We were as high as 140% (of normal),” he said. “We’re probably in the 120 (percent) range now and coming down. We need a couple more warm days, though, to make it break loose a little bit, but no flooding issues that we’ve seen.”

Eli Johnson, Weber County emergency management coordinator, told the Standard-Examiner that recent storms have helped chip away at some of that snowpack as well.

“The last couple of storms that went through, between the warm temperatures and then the rainfall that came through, we burned out nearly all of our low-elevation snowpack — there’s very little, if any, left,” he said. “This time last year, we still had a good bit of low-elevation snowpack.”

He said the situation is largely the same going further up the mountains.

“The majority of our mid-elevation (snowpack) will probably be burned out by this weekend, especially if we do see some rain,” he said.

Johnson said the gradual disappearance of the snowpack has aided in the lowering of the overall flood risk.

“We always run into problems when we have two of those three elevations coming down at the same time,” he said.

Paxman said area reservoirs still have the capacity to capture what comes down from the highest elevations.

“Reservoirs are between 85%-90%,” he said. “Pineview is probably between 75%-80%. We should fill by around mid-May to June 1 on all reservoirs if they’re not already full — there’s several that are.”

He said irrigation season also has begun but Weber Basin isn’t seeing too much use at this time due to the cooler and wet conditions of the last few weeks.

Paxman said this year hasn’t been quite as intense as last year for amounts of moisture but was still a huge benefit to the area.

“Last year made us very nervous,” he said. “There was just so much snow up there, but it came down very nicely with the cool weather, then warm and then cool. This year it’s a lot easier to handle. We’re right above normal as far as snowpack, and it’s coming down really nicely as well. We’re not seeing the super-warm weather yet, so that really helps control any of the potential flooding that typically happens when it turns up hot really quick.”

He said this winter was even a bit of a rarity.

“I think it was perfect,” he said. “We’ve never had an average winter and this is about as close as we can hope for.”

While flood risks are low, Johnson pointed out the Ogden and Weber rivers are still swelling up with runoff.

“You drive by any of the rivers you can just see they’re brown, they’re muddy,” he said. “That’s not reservoir release, that’s just all runoff coming into those rivers and they’re flowing fast and they’re flowing very high and they’re flowing very, very cold right now. … It’s a very dangerous time to be recreating around any of the rivers until we start to see those flows start to come down and start to see that water warm up a little bit.”

He said it’s key that anyone choosing to recreate near these fast-flowing rivers needs to be careful.

“If you choose to camp near one of those rivers, especially the rivers above the reservoirs … establish your camp far enough away from that river that if it does rise, you have some warning,” he said. “Keep your kids and keep your pets away from the water as best you can and recreate responsibly.”

The call for safety comes at a poignant time, as Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the disappearance of Libby Stimpson, who was suspected of falling into the river on May 1, 2023, while walking her dogs near family property in Uintah, though her body was never recovered, even as water levels in the Weber River declined.

Johnson said this year, emergency crews have only dealt with two minor calls for incidents in the runoff-swollen rivers.

“We’ve had a couple kayakers get bounced out of their kayakers,” he said. “They know how to get out of the water and they’re usually smart enough not to go after it. They get to the bank and figure, ‘I’ve lost a kayak,’ but someone sees it a little bit farther down the river and they call 911 assuming that somebody is in the water around or behind that kayak.”

And while rivers may be swollen with water and reservoirs are filling up nicely, Paxman said it’s still paramount that residents along the Wasatch Front continue to watch their water use.

“We really are hoping that people will continue to be very efficient in their water use,” he said. “Even in a good year with reservoirs full, just be as efficient as you possibly can so we can hold that water for those drought years that are bound to be coming.”


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)