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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Dry July worsens northern Utah's drought conditions

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, | Posted - Aug 4th, 2016 @ 9:21pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — While statewide reservoir storage remains about the same as this time last year, water managers worry a hot, dry August could challenge water supplies as irrigation demand ramps up.

Those fears are part of a dismal climate and water supply report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, which describes northern Utah precipitation for July as "pretty close to nothing."

Those concerns over prolonged hot and dry weather add to the severe risk of more wildfires charring landscapes across the state in a season that has already proved tough and challenging.

"It has been busy. People have been going nonstop in some areas around the state. If weather conditions do not improve, meaning rainfall, then yes, things are definitely not going to get any better," said Jason Curry, spokesman with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

On Thursday, the agency unveiled a powerful new wildfire mapping tool to help calculate risk and better prepare wildfire response by firefighters. Utah is among the first states in the country to develop the computer portal, which is accessible online and by the public to help in the fight.

Statewide, reservoir storage sits at 56 percent of capacity, and while Weber Basin reservoirs are sitting at 10 percent higher than they were last year, the district's general manager worries about the increasing demand if the weather stays hot and dry.

"We didn't get much of anything throughout the month of July," said Tage Flint. "We normally don't get much in July anyway, but we couldn't get much less than we did."

The report notes that reservoir storage is already low on Enterprise, Sevier Bridge, Piute, Scofield, Woodruff Creek and Gunnison reservoirs, and a dry August will only make it worse.

"If August is July but with a different name, that puts us that much closer to a precarious situation," said Randy Julander, Utah Snow Survey director with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Last July and August, we were really really wet, and that saved us a ton on reservoir storage."

The U.S. Drought Monitor released its latest classifications of drought intensity across the country on Thursday, classifying more than half of Utah as abnormally dry and about 4 percent of the state in moderate drought.

Julander said the one shining spot in July's weather for Utah was the amount of precipitation delivered to southeastern Utah — 120 percent of normal — and southwest Utah, which was near normal or slightly above normal in most areas.

"But everybody was hot," he said.

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Updated: Thursday August 16, 2018 5:04 am