Drought Continues Despite Rain

Drought Continues Despite Rain

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John Daley ReportingNo doubt about it, the statewide snow and water numbers reveal drought conditions for the sixth consecutive year, though you wouldn't know it from the flooding some towns are seeing.

The state will get no relief after more than a half-decade of drought conditions. That was word today from the state's top water leaders who gathered to assess state water supplies after yet another frustrating winter.

We've been getting some moisture the last few days, which is nice, but it’s really only a drop in the bucket. Our big problem is the history-making March of 2004. It came in like a lion and left like a lamb, one very thirsty lamb at that.

The rain outside is steady, but short-lived. Inside, water managers digest the troubling long-term outlook--a litany of bad news.

Snowpack, Utah's lifeblood, suffered a disastrous March--the worst on record. Unseasonably high temperatures caused the early melt-off of between 25% and 60% of the snowpack, much absorbed by dry soil.

March first the outlook was rosy with 106%. By April 1st it was down to 68%. Today it's less than 60, and even worse than last year, which saw a very dry winter.

David Ovard, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District: "Nobody knows when this is going to be over. And every year we say, 'well maybe this is it.' But we've had longer droughts than this. So I'm not optimistic at all."

Randy Julander, Utah Snow Survey: "March was not only the worst March that we've ever had, but it eclipsed the previous worst March by anywhere from 200 to 500 percent."

Some streams in northern, central and southeast Utah are at or near historic low levels.

Randy Julander: "The Bear River is essentially out of water. The upper Sevier River is essentially out of water."

Deer Creek Resevoir--source of a third of Salt Lake's water--is as low as it’s been in 40 years and is at 40% of capacity.

Keith Denos, Provo River Water Users Assn.: "That means that the water users are going to have find some way to get by with much less than they received last year, which was less than normal."

Agriculture, which lost at least 50 million dollars to drought last year, faces severe cutbacks. Residential and commercial customers could face mandatory restrictions.

Even massive reservoirs like Strawberry and Jordanelle--the lynchpins for Northern Utah--could run dry if the drought continues a few more years.

Rich Tullis, Central Utah Water Conservancy District: "With our current demands and current capacity, we'd probably go about three more years, maybe four years and we are essentially empty."

One location north of Evanston measured 40 inches of snow on March 1st, a month later the snow was completely gone.

So the bottom line here is that Utah's snowpack numbers are worse than at the end of last winter. And if these dry weather conditions continue for another three or four years, some of our big reservoirs will begin to completely run dry.

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