Water is likely to become a very precious commodity in Utah this summer, especially in areas outside the Wasatch Front.
Officials from the National Weather Service and the Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service paint a gloomy water outlook for Utah. Unfortunately the clouds of gloom will not add to the state's snowpack.With Utah entering its fifth consecutive drought year, the cumulative effects are beginning to surface statewide. Reservoirs are not expected to fill in most instances, many springs are drying up and groundwater levels are dropping, forcing many water companies and users to lower pumps to get at the remaining water. In many instances, wells too are being abandoned.
"We've done a good job of water management along the Wasatch Front," said Jon Werner, a data collection supervisor for the conservation service. "This area will not feel the impact the way other areas will."
Bill Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake office, said 80 to 90 percent of the areas outside the Wasatch Front are likely to experience varying levels of water rationing before the summer is out.
Nor is the 30-day outlook optimistic for significant precipitation, said Alder. The 90-day forecast is a little more optimistic but not enough to make a real difference.
A preliminary index released by the weather service puts the Salt Lake area in the "extreme drought" category and most of central and western Utah in the "severe drought" range. Eastern Utah and the St. George area are ranked in the "moderate drought" category.
"The window for change is rapidly closing," said Werner, who noted that the bulk of the snowpack is generally in place by April 1. "Anything we get in April is a bonus."
The current drought cycle is the longest in Utah since the 1930s when there was a near 10-year drought, Werner said.
Adding to the problem is evidence that Utah could experience premature melting in many areas. A premature melt would especially hurt farmers who depend on the snowpack for late-summer irrigation.
Alder said even though this year has been better than last, it will take several years of above-normal precipitation to end the drought cycle. And Werner noted that precipitation in the seven districts would have to range from 136 percent of normal to double the normal rate over the next month to reach the April 1, 25-year average.
"One good year doesn't end the drought," Alder said. "It takes time to overcome the cumulative effects, just as it took time to get where we are now."
The net effect of the current drought cycle, Werner said, is that Utah, on average, has lost 11/2 years worth of precipitation over the past five years. That lack of water has had a debilitating impact on reservoir storage, has severely impacted livestock and wildlife forage, and many productive watersheds are losing efficiency.
Werner said it's never too early to begin water conservation. Anything that water users can do to cut down on water use will be helpful later.
And, both Werner and Alder agreed, Utahns can always hope for a wetter than normal summer.