Year-end Water Tally Ends Drought

Year-end Water Tally Ends Drought

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- After a record water year, Utah's chief snowpack scientist believes the six-year drought in the state has ended.

Utah's drought began in 1999 and continued through 2004. But rain and snow totals from the just-completed water year, which ended Sept. 30, brought the state back to average water conditions, said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"In terms of snowpack, of course, it was just an astounding year," Julander said. "Southern Utah hasn't had snowpack like this ever. We've come out of a really nasty drought."

Communities across Utah recorded precipitation that ranged from just-above normal to 200 percent above normal, National Weather Service statistics show. At Salt Lake City International Airport, for example, 19.15 inches of precipitation was recorded, an amount that is 116 percent above normal. And in southern Utah, St. George had 15.39 inches of precipitation -- 175 percent of normal.

The wet-weather pushed most Utah reservoirs to near capacity levels and most have remained at about 61 percent of capacity, the data show.

Bear Lake, the popular recreation spot on the northeast Utah-Idaho border, not only made up for previous shortfalls, but now has enough water to "put some back in the bank," Julander said.

"And boy, did that take some pressure and tension off," he said. "We're almost as giddy as little high school girls watching a boy band."

But one good year doesn't mean Utah is out of a long-term drought crisis, Julander warned. Drought cycles can last between 10 and 15 years, so 2005 might just have been an exceptional year in the midst of a long cycle.

"We're looking personally for the 2005 sequel to be in 2006," Julander said. "We've got water in the bank, a little bit of cushion, and it seems winter is starting early again this year. We're certainly on the edge of our seat, but we're not holding our breath."

Mother Nature seemed to cooperating Tuesday. On the fourth day of the new water year, snow was falling in Utah's higher elevations, with between six and 12 inches forecast by the Weather Service.

"It really does feel like winter," said Laura Schaffer, spokeswoman for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Snowbird had 8 inches by nightfall.

Weather Service meteorologist Chris Brenchley says the fall-to-spring weather cycle is always critical to Utah's overall drought picture.

"It always depends on future conditions," Brenchley said. "It's determined by if we stay in an above-normal pattern for a year or two or if we hit a dry pattern."

Julander said Utahns should continue water conservation efforts begun during the drought, particularly as the state's population grows.

"Water will be an ever-increasing demand," he said. "And that resource is not going to get any larger."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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