UTAH (ABC4) – As Utah continues experiencing an unprecedented drought, state officials are constantly hoping Mother Nature will replenish Utah’s water levels.
With some recent rainfall covering parts of Utah, how much did the weather activity help snowpack levels?
“Our lands are tinder dry, and with May and June forecasted to be hotter and drier than previous years, we are also gearing up for a challenging wildfire season,” said Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “We need people to continue to conserve to stretch our limited water supply and exercise good Fire Sense to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.”
The Utah Division of Water Resources (DNR) says currently, 99.86% of Utah is currently experiencing both extreme and severe drought. Utah’s reservoir levels are 4% lower than it was during the same time last year.
“As we approach Memorial Day weekend, I urge residents to use good Fire Sense and check for impacts, such as boat ramp closures, before heading out to state parks,” said Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. “When recreating at Utah’s beautiful reservoirs, remember, our reservoirs aren’t just for fun, they store our water and help get us through drought.”
Water officials say so far, 95% of Utah’s water supply comes from snowpack. Above-average storms are still needed to replenish reservoirs. At this point, officials say there is a “low chance of these below-normal snow levels refilling Utah’s reservoirs.”
Soil moisture is decaying faster than usual this water year, this could mean increased fire danger this summer,” says DNR. “Spring runoff is nearly over, with the streamflow levels declining as snowpack melts. Snowpack was 25% below average and did not refill our reservoirs.”
The Great Salt Lake could potentially face a new historic low — even though its current elevation is sitting at 4190.8, officials say the lake typically drops about two feet every summer.
“Levels have remained nearly unchanged for the last month. Inflow is needed to overcome the typical seasonal summer drop of about 2.3 feet. So far the lake has risen about 1 foot and has likely peaked. With the seasonal summer drop of about 2.3 feet, the lake is likely to hit a new historic low this summer.”
The dire drought covering Utah has also impacted wildlife, namely the typical bear hibernation period. As the weather warms earlier in the year, black bears will wake from hibernation earlier as well.
“Black bears are the only species of bear in Utah, and they live and roam across much of the state,” says DNR. “The likelihood of conflicts with bears often increases during drought years when a bear’s normal food supply is decreased, leading them to seek alternate food sources. Utahns should be extra vigilant this year to take measures to reduce conflicts with bears.”
DNR says drought impacts the plants and vegetation that makeup 90% of a black bear’s diet. Biologists say bears will be searching for alternate food sources throughout Utah. Officials are anticipating a “possible increase in incidents this year of bears getting into people’s garbage and scavenging for food.”
Snowpack levels are currently at 75% of the median, peaking at around 12 inches when normally the typical median is 16 inches.
Eighteen of Utah’s largest 45 reservoirs are below 55% of their available capacity. Utah’s statewide storage is at 63% of capacity.
Of the 98 measured streams, 47 streams are flowing below normal despite spring runoff. Six streams are flowing at record low conditions. Experts say due to low snowpack, streamflows will be lower than normal, meaning reservoirs won’t fill up as they typically would.
With dry summer months ahead, wildfire season remains an elevated risk to Utah.
“The majority of human-caused wildfires this year have been due to agricultural burning as individuals prepare their canals and property for irrigation,” officials say. “To date, Utah has seen 147 wildfires since January 1st, with 124 of them classified as human-caused.”
With low soil moisture throughout Utah, experts say the fire potential will increase to above normal during mid to late May and through June over higher elevations throughout central and southern Utah.
“By July, the higher terrain of the Sierra Front into northern Utah will likely see above-normal fire potential due to the drought once the snow melts and fuels cure,” says DNR. “The monsoon is expected to be fairly robust and on time with fire potential decreasing over the southern half of the Great Basin by July.”
To see the full Utah drought report for May, click here.