SALT LAKE CITY — What water managers statewide have been dreading the past few months is now official: Utah's water year that ended Monday was piddling for precipitation, setting the state up for another round of drought.
"The best we can hope for at this point is an exceptionally wet spring that would delay water use across the state," according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service report looking at the water supply outlook for Utah. "The National Climate Prediction Center forecast is for warm and dry."
Except for a good-sized storm March 9-11 that dropped some precipitation in southern Utah, the state was exceptionally dry last month, according to Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
The conservation service report said March was the third consecutive month of well-below-normal snow accumulation.
"(It was) so low, in fact, that on this month’s snow surveys, it was common to see the sampling holes and snowshoe tracks from the previous month," the report noted.
McInerney said the lack of precipitation showing up does not bode well for the state.
"We did not get much, which is really unfortunate," he said.
All the northern Utah basins from the Utah/Idaho border are hovering around 60 percent of average range for the amount of water in the snowpack, with the mountains east of Utah County in the worst shape at 59 percent of average.
"Remember last year? Long, hot and dry — every water manager's nightmare? Well, this year is a carbon copy repeat, only with much less reservoir storage," the report warns.
McInerney said the spring runoff forecast — calculating the volume of water expected to come out of the mountains through July's end — shows the state runoff will generally be less than 50 percent of normal.
"That means we will get less than half of what we typically get," he said. "We just did not get the storm activity, and as a result, we did not get the snowpack in the mountains."
Utah began the past water year Oct. 1, 2012, with statewide reservoir storage at the 60 percent capacity range. This year, if a warm spring takes hold, Utah could begin its next water year with only 40 percent of its reservoir storage capacity, McInerney said.
The bright spot in all this, he said, is what storm activity the next 10 days is slated to bring, including possible mountain snow. The unsettled weather will help slow the pace of snow melt in the mountains.
"If there is a lot of rain, that will take the pull off the snow," McInerney said. "Less sunshine and more rain would be helpful. It is not great, but we will take what we can get."