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Forest fires affecting spring runoff in some areas

Forest fires affecting spring runoff in some areas


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(Photo courtesy U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Marc Giauque reporting

Spring runoff is just starting in many parts of Utah, but in at least one area it's already nearly done. Hydrologists say you can blame a forest fire.

Near central Utah's Ferron Creek Reservoir, snowpacks should be around seven feet deep, but Randall Julander, of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, says there's actually bare ground in some places. He says a fire last year is to blame.

"There is a phenomenal amount of black soot from the fire hanging in the trees. Every time the wind blows, it distributes this carbon across the surface of the now," Julander explained.

He says that soot has caused snow to melt much more quickly. It's impacting several square miles, and he says because it's melting so early, the water is not turning up in streams and reservoirs.

Hydrologists hope to study the area to help learn the impact of fires on runoff. Julander also thinks there could be a similar impact east of this summer's Milford Flat fire because of the enormous amount of soot there.

Meanwhile, temperatures today are expected to hit near 80 degrees, and near 90 degrees in the south. But flood watchers, like Julander, say they don't expect any problems with the runoff for now.

In all but a very few places, Utah has seen above-average snowpack this year. In a week with temperatures that will go from the 40s to the 80s, you might expect to see some flooding problems, but Julander doesn't.

"It would take a lot of unusual circumstances to bring us to the point where we would have a huge concern," he said.

Julander says snowmelt is like a freight train. It takes a lot of energy before it gets going. He says right now, the train is still at the station.

He'd actually prefer some colder days ahead to preserve as much runoff as possible for the reservoirs.

E-mail: mgiauque@ksl.com

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