OGDEN — If Wayne Pullan were a praying man, and he is, he’d be praying for a runoff season like the one northern Utah is experiencing right now.
It warms up. It cools down. Push repeat.
“It is like playing jazz in a jazz band,” said the area manager for the Provo office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“Every other guy is a variable and you have to respond in real time. They are going to challenge you. They are going to try to throw you off and you have to create something that is cool and beautiful.”
The players in this band are the rain, the sun, the snowpack in the mountains and how everything must come together perfectly to stave off flooding, keep water in ample supply for culinary use, for irrigation, for recreation and for wildlife.
It is a delicate dance, a perfect instrumentation that has to play out in dam management.
On Wednesday, Pullan was joined by Darren Hess, assistant general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, at the Pineview Dam at Ogden Canyon.
The dam is brimming, releasing 130 cubic feet of water per second through its spillway. Another 150 cubic feet of water per second is released through a pipe to a hydropower plant below.
So far this spring, it has been a good year for water management on the Ogden River.
Hess says the Weber River, which flows from a much higher elevation drainage, will be a bit trickier to manage.
“We are watching it all the time,” he said.
Pullan said how much to release and when to release is a constant consideration.
“You are creating a hole in the reservoir to store the peak flow. It is not just an issue of storing water, but releasing it judiciously. You want to avoid sending water over the spillway in an uncontrolled release,” he said.
Across northern Utah, reservoirs are all forecast to fill, according to Brian McInerney, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. Pineview, for example, sits at 84 percent of capacity, while Willard Bay is at 90 percent and further south, Deer Creek is brimming at 98 percent.
These nearly full reservoirs will receive additional water as the snow continues to come off the mountains in the coming weeks. The storm pattern that is moving in on Thursday means 10 days of precipitation, which will deliver an additional 3 inches of water to the mountains that will eventually wind up in the reservoirs.
"The peak will be in late May and everything will be running big and high. We still don't anticipate any major flooding of any kind," McInerney said.
Pullan marveled Wednesday at the ingenuity of the engineers and planners of more than a century ago who designed and planned the water storage and delivery systems that serve the West.
“The imagination and planning of those people back in the day,” he said, his voice trailing off as he surveyed the infrastructure.
Pineview Dam was a 1930s construction-era project of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and then enlarged a decade later in partnership with Weber Basin, which Pullan said was one of the first districts, if not the first in the country, to put in a secondary water system for its users.
Today it holds 18,000 acre-feet. One thousand acre-feet is enough to cover 1,000 football fields.
Today it holds 18,000 acre-feet. One thousand acre-feet is enough to cover a football field.
The dam serves many purposes for its downstream users by controlling flows of the Ogden River and preventing flooding and storing water for summer use.2 comments on this story
It is one of the most heavily recreated bodies of water in northern Utah, drawing thousands each summer for boating and fishing.
Pullan said last year was brutal for water supply managers, but this year the instruments in the band are all in harmony.
Wednesday’s temperatures were hovering in the mid-80s, but another storm is predicted to swing by northern Utah Friday into Saturday, cooling things off again.
“It’s that jazz band making it sound cool,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version said 1,000 acre-feet of water is enough to cover a football field. It is actually enough to cover 1,000 football fields.