While stormy conditions over the past six weeks have given a boost to Utah's water supply outlook, water officials warn it is much too early to declare the state's five-year drought over.
And, they add, Utahns should continue to make water conservation a high priority this summer.The major benefit from the storms that have practically water-logged northern Utah, has been to delay major water releases from upstream reservoirs. The cooler temperatures have also proved beneficial by slowing the snow melt in the higher elevations.
"I think it's still too early to say whether water restrictions will be eased," said Bill Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake office. "We can't make up in two months what we have lost over several years."
Ray Wilson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service's snow survey agreed.
"I think it's fair to say that the length of the drought makes it more difficult to say it's over," Wilson said. "Soil dryness is really taking its toll (on the runoff)."
Wilson said stream flow forecasts went up by 2 percent to 7 percent during April, and a similar increase could result if the May storm patterns continue. Still, that would put average steam flows at just between 70 percent and 75 percent of average. Whether this will be enough to end water rationing plans in some areas remains to be seen, Wilson said.
"I think water conservation would still be wise," Wilson said. "We had such poor carry-over in the reservoirs that we need to continue to try to build our storage. If we have another bad winter, people would question why water restrictions were lifted."
Alder said Utah is overdue for a wet summer but cautioned that the state is also overdue for a wet winter. Another hot, dry summer would take much of the punch out of the benefits created by this latest round of late spring storms.
"This has been a wonderful April and May - it's been a nice gift from Mother Nature, but it doesn't solve the overall problem," Alder said. "The pattern has been helpful, but there will still be some water deficiencies around the state - especially away from the Wasatch Front."
To officially declare the drought over, Alder said, the state will have to have its reservoirs filled, the soil and underground water aquifers fully recharged and "at least one winter snowpack that is above normal, and possibly two."
And, Alder added, winter storms will have to come at the right time. Late spring storms tend to do little for the snowpack.
In Davis County, where the most restrictive rationing plans have been announced, water officials plan to wait another two weeks before deciding whether to make changes.
Ivan Flint, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District general manager, said the storms have had a tremendous impact on reservoir storage because irrigators have not called for water releases.
Also, river use is down, which is allowing the district to make major diversions into Willard Bay.
"If the current projections work out and we get the water out of the mountains as it is currently predicted, then I think we may look at making some changes," Flint said. "We won't be lifting restrictions entirely, but we will probably make them more liberal."
Flint said the key is the snow melt.
"If it trickles out and disappears into the ground or evaporates before it gets into the streams, then it won't help us much," Flint said. "If it comes out the way it is projected, then I think we'll be looking at making changes."