SALT LAKE CITY — A big snowpack that is being eaten away by high temperatures is causing the water at Lake Powell to rise a foot a day — good news for boaters and other water revelers.
"This is a good year to boat at Lake Powell," said Paul Ostapuk, a spokesman for Friends of Lake Powell. "It is 150 miles long so even in drought conditions, there is plenty of space to spread out and have fun and adventure."
The latest numbers by the Natural Resources Conservation Service put the Upper Basin Colorado River snowpack at a whopping 208 percent of normal — twice what is typically measured for early June.
Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said snowpack numbers can look crazy this time of year because the melt is well underway, but the snow that remains in northern Colorado and Wyoming is a big boost for the Colorado River and its tributaries.
"Basically the high pressure that was parked over the western United States (over much of the winter) ended at the Utah/Colorado border," he said, adding that Colorado was pounded with storms while Utah was left wanting. "That is the benefit of this whole thing, what is going on with the upper Colorado River and the Green River now."
Runoff into Lake Powell that began in mid-May reached 60,000 cubic feet per second. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports that lake levels will continue to climb a foot a day into late June, hitting a peak elevation of 3,616 feet.
The rising water opened the Castle Rock Cut near Wahweap Marina and three concrete launch ramps — Wahweap, State Line and Antelope Point — are now open.
"The above average snowpack is helping," said bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams. "We are kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature. Who knows what we will see in the future, but we are glad that we have it."
The bureau projects that by Oct. 1, the start of the next water year, Lake Powell will likely be at an elevation of 3,610 feet, 26 feet below its 50-year average for the date.
"Lake Powell is still half full, but that speaks to the value it has provided. Without that bank account of water storage, the implications of consecutive years of drought would be far more catastrophic. It is operating exactly as it was designed to do." Iams said.
The persistent drought in the West led bureau officials last year to make a first-ever cut in the amount of water released from Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam to downstream Lake Mead.
The 750,000-acre feet cut of water — enough for 1.5 million homes — came amid what bureau officials described as the worst drought in a century.
A monthly climate and water supply report put out by the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Utah continued its dry pattern into May, which saw precipitation across the state at just 73 percent of average.
Reservoir storage in general is down 4 percent from where it was last year and most streams and rivers have already reached their peak runoff.
The National Climate Prediction Center forecasts for Utah suggest warmer conditions for western Utah over the summer months and near normal in the rest of the state. The center also forecasts above normal summer precipitation over the entire state.
Late winter storms actually helped to remove a chunk of Utah out of drought classification, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The Bear River Basin and the Wasatch Front are no longer considered drought-impacted, according to Thursday's weekly report.
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