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Half of Utah remains in ‘extreme’ drought as water year winds down

By Toria Barnhart - Park Record | Sep 29, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

People float down the Provo River on inner tubes in Provo Canyon on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

Utah water officials praised residents for their conservation efforts as the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of next year, winds down.

The state’s reservoirs started at lower levels this season after last year’s dry conditions, but levels are comparable to where they were this time last year, according to a report from the Utah Division of Water Resources. This indicates less water was taken from reservoirs compared to last season.

“The efforts that the legislature, residents and municipalities have made are working,” Candice Hasenyager, the director of the Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. “This helps us keep water in our reservoirs for future years.”

Hasenyager praised Utah communities for understanding the importance of conserving water and responding to outreach efforts. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, the provider in portions of Summit County, reported year-to-date deliveries are down 22% or about 5 billion gallons compared to last year. Salt Lake City conserved nearly 3 billion gallons in its service area, according to water officials.

The state’s overall drought conditions improved this year compared to last. Around 57% of Utah is in an extreme or exceptional drought, which are the two most serious categories in the U.S. Drought Monitor. Around 88% of the state was in an extreme drought at this time last year.

Although current statewide reservoir levels are nearly the same as last year, they continue to drop. Reservoir storage statewide is around 43%, compared to 48% in early September. Thirty-five of the state’s 47 reservoirs are below 55% available capacity.

As of Sept. 22, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 64% capacity. The Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 59%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir near Oakley was at 67%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 48% capacity.

Water officials urged residents to continue being cautious of water use as unseasonably hot temperatures weathered on. Temperatures, meanwhile, were 5 degrees above average over the last two weeks, leading to increased use and evaporation.

Monsoonal rains in August helped saturate the state’s dry soils. Water officials were hopeful this would better position water to flow into reservoirs during next year’s spring runoff, but September’s record-high temperatures caused soil moisture levels to drop. The arrival of cooler temperatures has aided in recovery and current levels are typical for this time of year, water officials said.

Streamflows are still lower than normal because of the below-average snowpack. Around 56% of streams are flowing below or much below normal, according to the water report. The figure was around 34% in early September.

“Water usage did increase during the record hot temps earlier this month, but overall, Utahns across the state have helped save billions of gallons,” Hasenyager said. “Drought or no drought, we need to use our water supply responsibly.”

Harmful algae bloom growth has also increased throughout the state because of drought conditions and high temperatures. Health officials issued a warning advisory for swimming and water skiing in the Rockport, Jordanelle and Echo reservoirs as well as others across the state. People are also encouraged to keep their animals away from the bodies of water.

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