The Heat Is Online

Spring Brings Worsening of Utah Drought

Utah drought turning from bad to worse,
Apr. 17, 2003

A four-day windstorm shrunk Utah's mountain snowpacks in half, turning the drought from bad to worse.

Randy Julander, a snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, said the wind storm last week dried out, melted or carried away the moisture from already meager snowpacks. He said much of the water vapor headed to Colorado and over the crest of the Rocky Mountains, areas where the drought was easing.

"It basically blew away half of your snowpack," he told grim-faced state legislators on Wednesday.

Utah and the Great Basin are at the heart of a drought that has gripped much of the broader region for more than four years.

March storms got Rocky Mountain snowpack levels closer to normal from Montana to New Mexico, but in Utah snowpacks barely developed all winter and after the wind storm were reduced to little or nothing, Julander said.

He said that almost no snow is left anywhere in Utah below 7,000 feet in elevation.

Snowpacks in parts of Nevada, Oregon and Arizona are less than 50 percent of average.

Julander projected charts for river-flow, reservoir storage and soil moisture in Utah that he said had "disaster written all over" them.

Other officials said Utah farmers will get only a tiny fraction of their water shares this summer.

Dry soil is soaking up what little snowmelt there is. Only a tenth of the normal amount of water pulled from the Bear River in northern Utah is available for agriculture.

The Bear River has 1,000 acre-feet of water storage capacity filled with only 100 acre-feet of water, "a big hole to fill," he said.

Climate projections for the next three months show southern Utah could be warmer than normal, "not a good sign," he said.

Julander spends winters measuring Utah's snowpacks, and his photographs showed pitiful amounts or nothing at all on some south-facing slopes.

"Agriculture looks to be in big trouble," said Larry Anderson, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. He outlined a state campaign to encourage conservation. "We know we waste a lot of water on our lawns and gardens," he said.

Lawns don't have to be watered until May 1, and then only once a week, said Anderson, He said overwatering stunts root growth and makes grass vulnerable to dry periods.

Cutting back on waste like that can easily save 25% of Utah's household water consumption, he said.