KSL TV

Utah drought worries farmers, ranchers, water managers

By Alex Cabrero, KSL TV | Posted - Feb. 27, 2021 at 10:19 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Even though recent storms covered Utah's mountains with snow, the state is still in a drought and conservationists have already warned about reduced water use in the spring and summer.

Water engineers told KSL there is, at best, a 15% chance of getting to the average snowpack this year. An even bigger concern is how dry the ground is right now.

Nobody ever said ranching was easy, at least nobody who has ever tried it.

This year, though, Mother Nature made it even more difficult.

"It's tough. The drought has been very challenging," said Brian Johnson. "It's kind of the long game you've got to play, and you have to be prepared."

Johnson is a sixth-generation cattle rancher in Tooele County. He owns Johnson Land and Livestock in Rush Valley and knows firsthand how tough drought conditions are.

"We're used to dry conditions. We do live in the desert but, as it gets drier and drier over the past few years, it starts taking a toll on us," said Johnson.

Tooele County rancher Brian Johnson says the ongoing drought has hit him in the pocketbook.
Tooele County rancher Brian Johnson says the ongoing drought has hit him in the pocketbook. (Photo: Alex Cabrero, KSL TV)

This year may end up being the driest year yet.

"It's scary. The soil is the driest we've seen it in all the years we've been monitoring it," said Laura Haskell, who is Utah's drought coordinator and a water engineer with Utah's Division of Water Resources.

Even with the big snowstorm last week, drought is still a big concern.

Haskell said Utah would need roughly another 50 to 60 inches of snow just to get to average.

Reservoirs across the state are only about 65% full. Last year at this time, they were at about 85%.

Haskell said it is unlikely reservoirs will get to 100% this year.

"Probably not," she said. "The chances are only maybe 10% to 15% of average snowpack, and then again, that soil is going to soak it up, so the chances of an average streamflow runoff into our reservoirs is really, really low."

According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, all of Utah is in moderate drought, with 90% of the state experiencing extreme drought or worse.

Haskell said water conservation this year when it comes to lawns and gardens is going to be as important as ever.

"We have a large population. We're growing and using water," she said. "I think if people understood the situation and what they need to do, they'll do it."

Farmers sure understand.

Johnson said he had to buy outside feed and hay for his cattle last year, and he'll probably have to do it again this year since soil conditions at his ranch will prevent him from growing what he normally needs.

"Our crop production is way down. Last year, we saw about a 50% decrease in production," said Johnson.

Johnson and ranchers across Utah are just trying to get through it.

More snow and rain would help.

"We're in dire conditions," he said. "It's kind of a way of life. You kind of do what you got to do."

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Alex Cabrero

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