Utah gears up for final summer blast over Labor Day weekend
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — September brings the last official push of summer, with Labor Day revelers hitting the hills, beaches and campsites for a final chance to celebrate the waning days of the season.
This particular Labor Day also brings unusually low water levels and some reduced boating opportunities, so water enthusiasts are being urged to be cautious and informed.
"Things are different, not worse," said Eugene Swalberg, spokesman for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. "Wouldn't we all love to have full reservoirs? We would. But there are still plenty of places to go."
Bear Lake, Strawberry Reservoir and Flaming Gorge Reservoir all have water enough for boating, but other places have not fared so well because of last winter's dismal snowpack and this summer's record-breaking heat.
Echo Reservoir in Summit County, for example, is done for power boating, with its boat ramps closed. The reservoir is at 16 percent of capacity — and that drastic decline has nothing to do with seismic work that brought the water level down in 2012.
"They were able to fill as far as their water rights would allow them to this year," said Tage Flint, manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. "Echo is a pretty good indicator as to how severe the summer has been."
Flint noted that Rockport Reservoir in Wanship, Summit County, is not far behind Echo in its dramatically declining water levels, hovering at just 37 percent of capacity. Willard Bay also has closed its ramps, with park officials noting that launching is at boaters' own risk. Flint said it is at 43 percent of capacity.
Other reservoirs in that system and their capacity of full are: Lost Creek, 40 percent; Smith Morehouse, 40 percent; Causey, 50 percent; and Pineview, 34 percent.
Flint said the extreme conditions sapping water levels have forced the district to cut off secondary irrigation two weeks early — Oct. 1.
Ogden, which is served by the district, has declared a moderate water shortage and is asking people to cut back on watering by 20 percent. Pineview Water System recipients are being asked to reduce even more — 50 percent — through the remainder of the watering season for fear of running completely out of water by mid-September.
Elsewhere in the state, Jordanelle Reservoir is 58 percent full, and up north at Hyrum State Park, people are advised to use four-wheel drives when launching a boat.
Swalberg said the parks division monitors conditions at the reservoirs and posts updates on its website.
At Lake Powell, visitation has been down somewhat this summer, but officials there expect it to be a busy weekend.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Lake Powell is 110 feet below full, or 44 percent of capacity.
Denise Shultz, spokeswoman with the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, said no boat ramps are closed at this point, although Antelope Point is under consideration for prohibiting trailer launches.
This holiday weekend, the weather forecast by the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City is a mixed bag — plentiful moisture over the southern half of the state and risks of flash flooding, with drier air moving over the northern half of Utah as the weekend progresses.
People recreating in the southern half of the state should be mindful of the increasing risks of flash flooding in normally dry washes and in slot canyons. The rain will also bring a chance of urban flooding to those areas with burn scars.
In the north, the agency said temperatures will remain above normal and the weekend will get steadily drier, giving people ample opportunity to celebrate the final holiday of the summer. Showers and thunderstorms will not become an increasing threat until next week.
Swalberg said while some reservoirs are struggling with water levels, that shouldn't preclude people from having fun in the water this weekend.
"Treat this outing like the first outing of the year," he said. "Just like you'd be careful over Memorial Day, be careful this weekend. Don't be complacent, and be on top of your game because the water is changing all the time."
Swalberg noted that, on the flip side, less water means more beaches. At places such as Bear Lake, which still has plenty of water to go around, more exposed sandy beaches will be perfect for building sandcastles, playing volleyball and enjoying the sun.
"For boating, camping, playing on the beach or any myriad activities people are still wanting to do, life should be good," he said.
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