Wet storms in late July, early August save farmers, help reservoirs
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The month that is the typically driest in Utah was anything but, with late July turning on the spigot at full blast and drenching much of the state.
From what had been bone-dry southwest Utah to the northern tip of the border with Idaho, the amount of precipitation in most areas for last month clocked in at impressive numbers. And the rain clouds continued to deliver during the first week of August.
In the Dixie region, July precipitation was 118 percent of average; at Bear River, it was 140 percent; Provo River measured at 142 percent; and the Weber-Ogden basin recorded a whopping 205 percent.
"Talk about one foot in the fire and the other in the bucket," noted Utah Snow Survey supervisor Randy Julander with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "For the first two or three weeks of July it was hot and dry and we burned the state down. The last week or so we had enough rain to put out the fires and have some floods. We've had it all."
Statewide, July delivered storms that put Utah at 131 percent of normal for precipitation, according to Julander's monthly Utah Climate and Water report.
The practical effect of those vigorous storms is that at a time when farmers and homeowners are gulping at the faucet to keep lawns and crops fortified in the summer heat, Mother Nature stepped in to help.
"All that rain irrigated the crops naturally, and we were able to save some water in the reservoirs, which is always a good thing," Julander said.
Storms also quenched thirsty soils, transforming the dry ground.
"It brought it up very dry to actually average and above average in most areas, which is really kind of a phenomenal thing," Julander said.
Ivan Ray, general manager of the Ogden River Water Users Association and the Weber and Davis Counties Canal Co., said the intense storms temporarily pumped up stream flows and reduced demand on Echo Reservoir in Summit County.
"The reservoir level stayed the same when it had been dropping 4 to 5 inches a day," Ray said.
Orders for water from Echo dropped from 473 cubic feet per second to 379 cubic feet per second per day during one of the more intense stretches of storms, he added.
"It really helped," he said.
Ray, who manages releases from Echo and East Canyon reservoirs, said the late July rain, cooler temperatures and increased emphasis on conservation have combined to produce a decrease this year in usage of between 6,000 acre-feet of water to 8,000 acre-feet of water.
"People are more conservation minded than we have seen in the past," he added.
Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber-Basin Water Conservancy District, said the rains do not help reservoir levels per se, but they slow demand so farmers can stretch out better yields on crops.
"On the farm side, it allows their water supplies to stretch into September," he said. "A lot of them along the Wasatch Front are out of water by the third week of August. This will help them finish off their crops, getter a better alfalfa crop and finish off the corn."
From the urban perspective, Flint said the rain kept water in the reservoirs and will allow it to be saved for next year — critical given the depleted levels experienced in his district.
"Systemwide we are at about 45 percent of total storage left, and we're still projecting 30 percent or less by Oct. 1," he said.
Statewide, reservoir storage is 60 percent, while some areas — such as the Tooele and Vernon Creek basin — have seen reservoir storage already dip to 38 percent.
That sharp decline led the Settlement Irrigation Co. in the Tooele County area to shut off irrigation water on July 31 for at least two weeks because water restrictions failed to keep levels at the reservoir sufficient.
Julander said it would be extremely helpful for the water year that is left to get a few more storms this month and into September — just more scattered in duration and intensity.
"As far as the future is concerned, that is anybody's guess," he said. "We could continue to get some more storms, but I would like to see them more widely dispersed."
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