Utah farmers who use pressurized irrigation systems should face few if any water problems this year, but farmers who depend on flood irrigation and who divert water from streams may face serious trouble this summer.
And there may be big water problems for all of Utah's farmers and ranchers next year if the snow levels next winter are as low as they have been this past winter, or lower.John G. Werner, snow survey supervisor for the Soil Conservation Service, said a check of water storage in 26 reservoirs throughout the state shows they have 113 percent of the normal May 1 average water supply.
However, he said, this is partly due to an early spring stream flow that has pushed many reservoir levels up. "This early runoff means that stream flows later this summer will probably be very low, especially if there is below-normal rainfall.
"What this means is that there is enough water in storage to meet the demands this year of farmers who use one of several methods of pressure irrigation - including hand-moved lines, wheel lines and circular center pivot systems."
William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake Forecast Office, said six reservoirs in Utah will not fill this year: Rockport, Echo, Lost Creek, East Canyon, Pineview and Willard Bay.
"Deer Creek might fill, but only if we get some wet weather through June, which would reduce the use of stored water there and allow the reservoir to fill."
Alder said it is difficult to predict rainfall in Utah. "Our forecasts come out of Washington, D.C., and are very general. Over May, June and July, what forecasts we have say there will be average precipitation and near average temperatures."
Werner said farmers who do not depend on any kind of irrigation and have dry farms should be OK this summer, but farmers who depend on gravity flow irrigation from streams may find they have run out of water by the end of the summer or have much less water in their streams than they need.
DelRoy J. Gneiting, state statistician with the Utah Agricultural Statistics Service, said the two biggest crops grown without irrigation in Utah are winter wheat and dry beans.
"Everything else is grown with irrigation: barley, spring wheat, alfalfa hay, corn for silage and grain corn, potatoes, onions and other vegetables and fruit. A good many acres of pasture land are also irrigated.
"More and more farmers and ranchers are using irrigation, especially pressure irrigation and, in a year with little rainfall, this can save us."
Last year was the biggest harvest year in the state in terms of both crops harvested and yields per acre. The reasons? Good weather, abundant rainfall and a heavy snowpack during the winter of 1986-1987.
Marty Owens, deputy state statistician, said a soil conservation plan called the Crop Reduction Program has taken 120,000 acres out of production in Utah this year, but most of that land is marginal, dry land that is highly erodible.
"Taking the Crop Reduction Program into consideration, our initial surveys indicate Utah farmers will probably plant nearly as many irrigated acres this year as last year and, if the weather is good, yields should be good, too."
The biggest problems for Utah's farmers could occur next year, agriculture experts say.
A light snowfall next winter could be a disaster for agriculture in the state.