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Utah’s drought conditions slightly improving despite hot weather

By Toria Barnhart - Park Record | Sep 7, 2022

Deborah Wilber, Standard-Examiner

Cars pass by the extended shoreline of Pineview Reservoir on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

Drought conditions across Utah are better than last year and continue to improve, but state water officials continue to urge caution as unseasonably hot weather persists.

The Utah Division of Water Resources praised Utahns for their efforts to save billions of gallons of water to help through conservation. The governor’s office has prioritized water conservation initiatives, such as incentivization, and policy changes to help address the ongoing drought.

“Efforts to advance water conservation are having a significant impact on our ability to stretch the water supply,” Joel Ferry, the acting executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, said in a prepared statement. “Utah communities are responding by implementing waterwise ordinances, and residents are turning off their sprinklers and removing unnecessary turf. All of this helps reduce our water use.”

The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District has delivered around 27% less water year-to-date than in 2021. Salt Lake City Public Utilities also reported a 17% reduction this year compared to the last three years, which equates to 2.5 billion fewer gallons used, according to state water officials.

Around 62% of the state was in an extreme drought, the second-highest category, or worse as of Sept. 1 according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More than 70% of the state was in the same category a month ago and about 88% of the state was at that level at the start of the water year, around Sept. 28.

Heavy precipitation during early August helped quench dry soil across many parts of the state. Soil moisture is trending high across Utah, which will help position water to flow into reservoirs during next year’s spring runoff. The weather doesn’t increase the state’s reservoirs, but it does decrease the water demand.

Despite the monsoonal rains last month, streamflow remains lower than average because of last winter’s snowpack, which was 25% below average. Many reservoirs were lower than usual as a result. Around 34% of streams are flowing below normal, according to water officials.

Statewide reservoir storage is around 48%. Thirty of the state’s 47 reservoirs are 55% below capacity. Water officials said the figure is slightly better compared to last year, but around 18% lower than average. They said current reservoir storage is equal to last year despite starting lower than last year, which means more water traveled to the sources.

As of Aug. 25, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 68% capacity while the Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 73%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley was at 83%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 62% capacity.

Summer rains did help keep fuel moisture low, reducing the risk of wildfires. There have been 795 wildfires across the state, which is a 20% reduction, according to water officials. Around 48% of the fires have been caused by humans. Fire danger in Summit County remained high on Tuesday.

State water officials continue to advocate for caution and conservation as temperatures are expected to cool over the next few weeks.


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