Employees of governmental agencies, water companies and others who must worry about water supplies are really at the mercy of Mother Nature.

"We have done about everything we can do. It depends on (the upcoming) winter and runoff" into water storage facilities, says LeRoy W. Hooton Jr., director of the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.It appears Mother Nature will have to do a better job this winter than usual in replenishing dwindling water supplies around the state to prevent major water-use restrictions next summer.

Precipitation figures for the water year that ended Sept. 30 show it was the eighth driest year ever, with 10.88 inches of precipitation, which is 71 percent of the normal 15.31 inches, at the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service.

Fifth warmest summer

William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office, said Weather Service records show the past summer was a scorcher - the fifth warmest summer on record. The average temperature was 75.7 degrees - 2.5 degrees above normal. With hot temperatures and little moisture, reservoirs and other water supplies are quickly depleted.

"We can't stand another dry water year," declared Alder.

Statewide, precipitation averaged 80 percent of normal during the water year. While some areas of Utah have received welcome amounts of moisture in recent weeks, the entire state is in a drought. And it will take a heavy snowpack this winter to correct the situation.

Figures released by the Weather Service, the State Climatologist's Office and the Bureau of Reclamation show that several Utah reservoirs are way below their capacity.

Reservoir supplies

As of Oct. 1, Echo (Summit County) and Scofield (Carbon County) reservoirs were filled to only 11 percent of their capacity, while Steinaker (north of Vernal) Reservoir was at 6 percent, and Moon Lake, 14 percent. While not at desirable levels, several other reservoirs - including Lost Creek, East Canyon, Willard, Deer Creek and Starvation - were in relatively better shape.

Gaylen Ashcroft, acting Utah state climatologist, said most of Utah is in a situation of "extreme drought . . . The bit of relief we have is in the mountainous part of northern Utah, where it is not as severe."

This past summer, most residents along the Wasatch Front didn't experience shortages in water to drink or for their lawns and gardens. Urban residents are sometimes puzzled when other people start talking about the lack of water. But farmers, fishermen and boaters are among those who are well aware.

"I don't talk to anyone who is a farmer who is unaware we in a drought, but a lot of people in the urban areas are not fully aware," Ashcroft said.

"If we had 120 percent of normal precipitation for each month during the next water year it would take just about one year to end the drought in all divisions (areas of the state), except the Uintah Basin, where it would take six months. In the northern mountains it would require nine months," Ashcroft said.

Water supplies low statewide

Bob Adams, hydrologic engineer for the Upper Colorado Region Office, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, says the culinary and irrigation water supply is poor statewide, particularly in southern Utah.

Adams gave figures on the water supply in several reservoirs, including Deer Creek, which was at 56 percent of its capacity on Oct. 1. That figure was 87 percent of average, but still 8 percent below normal.

The reclamation official said Scofield Reservoir, which provides water for Price and which is a major irrigation source for the Price area drainage, is normally at 50 percent of capacity at this time of year.

Jon Werner, data collection officer for the Soil Conservation Service, said Utah is at the "end of three to four years of below-normal conditions for water supplies."

Springs dry, wells drop

He said, "We see evidence of that in springs that are going dry, wells where water levels have dropped significantly and dry soil profiles."

If the snowpack this winter reaches 150 percent of normal, only near-normal amounts of water runoff can be expected, because it would take that much to recharge extremely dry soil conditions over four years, Werner said.

He said he has no idea on the amount of snowpack that might be expected from the upcoming winter months.

"I can only say that whatever we get would not go as far normally to restoring us to average conditions for soil moisture, reservoir storage, stream flow and flow of springs," Werner said.

Predictions inaccurate

Barry C. Saunders, associate director, Utah Division of Water Resources, said long-range water-supply predictions are not too accurate.

"I don't think we can predict at all what the water supply will be in the coming water year. I don't think anyone can. All we do know is that even if we have normal precipitation," much of the water will go toward replenishing soil moisture. "Even if we got 100 percent of normal precipitation we may only get something like 80 to 85 percent of normal stream flow," Saunders said.

When could Utah get wetter?

That is a very difficult question to answer, Alder said. In studying Salt Lake Valley weather records over 115 years, "three dry years in a row occur somewhat often. Four consecutive dry years happen sometimes, while five in a row are rare. This was the fourth dry year in a row at the Salt Lake Airport.

"A winter snowpack (November-April) of about 125 percent of normal would make the water people very happy. Near normal would create a moderate smile. With about 125 percent they would jump for joy, and a below normal (report) would create a real frown," Alder said.


(Additional information)

Utah precipitation

Utah precipitation past 2 water years

Division '89-'90 % '88 - '89 %

of normal of normal

Western 95 87

Dixie 61 71

North Central 77 86

South Central 81 72

Northern Mountains 80 91

Uinta Basin 81 59

Southeast 66 68

State average 80 79

30-day state weather forecast:

Near normal precipitation

Near normal temperatures

90-day state weather forecast:

Near normal precipitation

Above normal temperatures