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Dry August puts pressure on irrigators, saps reservoir storage
September 7, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY — A hot and an extremely dry August challenged Utah's already shrinking reservoirs, with irrigators who had to turn to reservoir storage to continue the late summer harvest.

Northern Utah received just 0.2 inches of precipitation in August, according to the latest climate report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the statewide average was not much better — 0.9 inches.

The result was a dramatic drawdown on reservoirs already limping into this summer from the effects of a five-year drought, reducing storage by 9 percent in just one month. Some reservoirs experienced even sharper declines for the month, such as Echo losing 24 percent and Piute down 21 percent.

The report notes that some reservoirs are near empty, including Gunnison, Sevier Bridge and Upper and Lower Enterprise.

Overall, reservoir storage sits at 47 percent of capacity, down from 51 percent this time last year.

The lack of precipitation has also caused a significant drying of the soils, with values at 28 percent compared to last year's 50 percent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor puts nearly 60 percent of the state in the extremely dry category and a portion of central Utah has moved into the moderate drought category.


(Photo: Aaron Thorup, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Low water levels are already causing recreational and public health concerns at many of Utah's waterways, with Utah Lake's shallow conditions helping to spur a massive algal bloom that spread to the Jordan River. Payson Lakes has also been infested, and Scofield Reservoir remains under a closure order.

Elsewhere, shallow water at Yuba Lake has led the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation to advise boaters to launch at their own risk, although higher elevation reservoirs such as Jordanelle and Deer Creek remain in good shape.

Ty Hunter, the state parks division's boating program coordinator, said it is typical for reservoirs to shrink in the waning months of summer, but this year has been tough because of the lack of precipitation.

"This summer has been bleak on rain," he said. "We are starting to feel it in a couple of our reservoirs."

The shrinking Great Salt Lake is also posing worrisome concerns over how this winter might play out with impacts on snowfall. The lake needs good snowpack to feed the Weber, Bear and Jordan rivers, but the less lake there is the less likely there will be lake-effect storms.