How did Utah perform as the 2022 water year ends amid drought?

Laura Haskell finds it difficult to describe the year 2022 because it was so ubiquitous.

The water year, which began in October 2021, kicked off with great force, leaving Utah’s ice mass – the amount of water trapped in the snow that falls in the state’s mountains – Much above average as 2022 approaches.

But this water well basically closed after the first week of the calendar year. Utah recorded the third driest January on record The beginning of February was not great, also. Some winter spring storms Water levels in the northern half of Utah helped. However, the last mass of snow in Utah in 2022 ended up at about 75% of normal, not enough to fully recharge the state’s faltering reservoirs.

The normal monsoon season mostly helped the rainfall totals, especially in the southern and central parts of the state, but these numbers didn’t affect Utah’s reservoirs much. Record temperatures between monsoon events were also hit by the total.

Add all of that, and it wasn’t a terrible water year, but it also wasn’t a great year.

“Following the drought years, it hasn’t made the situation much better,” said Haskell, the drought coordinator for the Utah Department of Water Resources. “There was a little bit of the good, some of the bad, and it was kind of intertwined to be a kind of skill.”

Localized precipitation totals

The final number is still being calculated statewide, but Utah finished August with an average of 10.73 inches, putting the state on course for its 34th driest water year since 1895. The 30-year normal is 13.46 inches, according to the National Information Centers environmental. data.

Available National Weather Service data provide a better window on rainfall totals for the final water year. For example, Salt Lake City is entering the last day of the water year after collecting 13.14 inches of rain over the past 12 months, 2.34 inches less than the 30-year normal of 15.48 inches.

Excluding rain on the last day, the 41st water year will be the driest on record for the city since 1874, according to weather service records. However, it is an improvement over 2020 and 2021 which produced 9.18 and 10.46 inches of water, respectively.

Some sites exceeded the standards, especially due to the strong start of the water year. The KVNU site in Logan calculated 18.38 inches of precipitation, which is 1.78 inches more than the normal range listed from 1991 to 2020. Its numbers were boosted by the strong month of October, which produced 4.79 inches of precipitation, just a little more. of a quarter of the water. year total.

Here are some other local totals entering the last day of the water year, according to weather service data:

Cedar City: 9.24 inches, 1.78 inches less than 30 years of a normal water year

Moab: 9.27 inches, 0.14 inches above the normal 29-year-old calendar

Provo (BYU Campus): 14.23 inches, 1.61 inches less than a normal 21 year calendar

Randolph: 13.06 inches, 1.3 inches less than the average 29-year-old’s calendar

very: 15.21 inches, 2.12 inches less than a normal 21 year calendar

droughts and reservoirs

Meanwhile, in 2022 Utah’s mega-reservoirs system will end hydro at 42% of capacity, according to data from the Utah Department of Water Resources. The number includes all reservoirs in Utah except for Flaming Gorge (72% of capacity) and Lake Powell (24% of capacity) because excluding these two better represents the state’s actual water supply, officials say. Utah’s water capacity is 36% if the two reservoirs are included.

Utah reservoirs decreased by 5 percentage points From the end of the water year 2021So the system is basically back to where it started around this time last year. Haskell views this as a bit of a victory given the lower-than-normal set of snow masses in the winter.

“People used less (water) in their landscapes and people really saved,” she said. “That the reservoirs are not lower than they were last year after having only 75% of our (regular) ice is good news.”

This map shows water levels in Utah's largest reservoirs as of Friday, the last day of the 2022 water year.

This map shows water levels in Utah’s largest reservoir as of Friday, the last day of the 2022 water year.

Utah Department of Water Resources

State water regulators released A report in August found that “billions” of gallons were saved again this summer, where Utah cut back on water use. Utilities officials in Salt Lake City I mentioned last week They have managed to reduce water consumption by 2.9 billion gallons, as the country continues to suffer from drought.

Utah hasn’t been able to escape the current drought in this watery year, but better rainfall totals mitigated its intensity a bit.

This 2022 water year ends with at least 56% of the state experiencing severe drought conditions, including nearly 4% in exceptional drought, According to the US Drought Observatory. The organization listed 70% of Utah in at least a severe drought this time last year, including a fifth of the state in an exceptional drought.

All eyes on ’23

The focus now shifts to the start of the next snow season, which typically begins in October and continues through the first half of the water year 2023. The natural snow mass collection and runoff system accounts for about 95% of Utah’s water supply.

The second good news is that soil moisture levels in Utah are “slightly above average” heading into the next water year, according to Haskell.

This is vital because moist soil allows for more efficient snow runoff, and this is what fills the reservoirs. In the spring of 2021, researchers found that most of the melted ice went to land because soil moisture levels were too dry at the end of 2020. Last spring, the biggest problem was that there wasn’t enough snow to melt in the reservoir.

The hope, Haskell said, is that soil moisture levels will remain “fairly high” for the next few weeks until the next mass of snow reaches the state’s reservoirs and streams.

Rob Steiner removes snow from a bench at Snowbird on October 12, 2021.

Rob Steiner removes snow from a bench at Snowbird on October 12, 2021.

There is also growing optimism about the Snowpack itself. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center Expect La Nina conditions to continue into winter, for the third time in a row. Historically, the third consecutive La Nina winter has meant dry conditions in Utah, and the center’s long-range forecasts originally required just as much.

But the center on Sept. 15 updated its forecast for the first three months of the new watery year to include the northern half of the state in “equal chances,” meaning there is no indication of total precipitation above normal, below normal or normal. For October, November and December. Southern Utah is still listed with odds tilting toward a dry start to the water year.

“Any upgrade in those expectations is certainly welcome because we prefer it not to be too hot and too dry for the next three months,” she said.

Whatever the case may be for the water year 2023, it likely won’t be the year that drought sets in. Experts say, as a rule, it takes as many years to get out of a drought as it takes to get in. The current drought in Utah began again in the spring of 2020, although the state is also in the middle of a massive two-decade drought in the West.

This means that this winter’s snow set – good, bad, or ugly – probably won’t change the way Water conservation is promoted in the state. It can take years to recover what was lost in the drought if it ever occurred.

“Our hope is that people will make permanent changes, change the way they water their lawns, and realize that, perhaps, we have been over-watering,” she said. We hope people understand (that we need) better landscaping for where we live.”

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