How bad are Utah’s drought conditions, how will they impact the summer?

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FILE – In this July 16, 2014 file photo, what was once a marina sits high and dry due to Lake Mead receding in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. Extreme swings in weather are expected as part of a changing climate, something Brad Udall, a water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, has called “weather whiplash.” The drought-stricken Southwest got a reprieve this year with average and above-average snowfall following a year that sent many states into extreme drought. Nearly empty reservoirs quickly rose, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the largest man-made reservoirs in the country that hold back Colorado River water. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Utah (ABC4) – Utah’s water supply is not looking good this year. 

It’s looking so bad that in March, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox issued an executive order, declaring a state of emergency in Utah.

According to the state of emergency, 100% of the state is experiencing moderate drought, and 90% of the state is experiencing extreme drought. 

The Utah Division of Water Resources took to social media asking Utahns to do their part in conserving water this year. 

The biggest impact you can make is not by complaining or pointing fingers, the division shares. They ask Utahns to hold off watering their yards – doing so saves on average 3,000 gallons per day. 

If you don’t have a yard, you can look for other ways to cut back on your water use by taking shorter showers and turning off the water when it’s not actively being used. 

ABC4 Meteorologist Adam Carroll says over the last month, Utah has seen no changes to our drought monitor, even with a wet end to March. 

“Over the last two weeks, we have seen our statewide snowpack numbers drop from around 80% to 65%. Though a reduction in our snowpack is expected this time of year thanks to warmer temperatures, we are losing too much snow too fast,” Caroll shares. 

“With an already low snowpack year, record warm temperatures over Easter weekend and a very dry start to April, the outlook moving forward remains dire,” he adds. 

Surveying Utah’s Snow published their April 1 Water Supply Outlook Report. The report outlines anticipated water supply conditions for this upcoming summer based on the state’s snowpack, current soil moisture conditions, water year precipitation, and reservoir conditions.

According to the report, Utah can officially say “goodbye winter.”

Utah’s snow has started to melt and the April to July runoff season has begun. The report says Utah’s statewide snow water equivalent (SWE) peaked at 12.6” on March 27, which was 81% of normal and about 10 days early.  

“Unfortunately, our SWE didn’t last at 12.6” for more than a day, and recent warm temperatures have caused the statewide SWE value to plummet,” as stated in the Surveying Utah’s Snow report. 

This last winter ranked 34th of the 41 years for which we have collected statewide SWE values. March precipitation was below average at 73%, which did not help the “disappointing water-year-to-date precipitation value currently at 71% of average.”

Soil moisture levels in the state have started to wet up due to the melting snow but are still extremely dry compared with previous years, the report adds. Utah’s soils are currently at 40% of saturation (or roughly 66% of normal).

“As we have noted for several months, Utah’s poor snowpack conditions, extremely dry soils, and low antecedent streamflow are expected to impact runoff conditions; streamflow forecasts for April to July snowmelt runoff volume are generally between 25% and 70% of average,” as shared in the April 1 report.

“Forecasters have had to reduce the anticipated gains from melting snow to account for the likelihood that a significant portion of this year’s snowmelt runoff will soak into headwater soils and not make it to downstream reservoirs.  This is unfortunate for many reasons, including the fact that Utah’s reservoir storage is currently only at 69% of capacity, which is down 14% from last year.  Surface Water Supply Indices for Utah basins, which combine reservoir values with forecasted streamflow volumes, have therefore remained very low.  As a whole, we expect Utah to experience well-below average water supply conditions for the 2021 water year.”

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