Drought is likely here to stay, water officials say

Despite snowstorms that came in the tail end of February, the drought is likely here to stay.

According to water officials, Utah is poorly positioned when it comes to water for the upcoming warmer months.

In fact, Sanpete County and 90 percent of the entire state of Utah, is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions. Laura Haskell, Utah’s drought coordinator, says the chances are very slim (10-15 percent) that Utah could experience a fairly healthy year, water-wise.

It all comes down to getting more snow where it matters the most, in the mountains. According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, the state needs about 50-60 inches of snow in our mountains to hit normal levels this year.

Jordan Clayton, data collection officer with Utah Snow Survey and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, closely tracks the water conditions across the whole state, and he recently released a report detailing the conditions Utah and each region currently face.

“Statewide average soil moisture conditions improved during the month of February,” Clayton said in his report. “They are now back up to around the minimum levels previously observed during the last decade. Given the current situation, this is good news! Although all of Utah still remains in drought, this is a step in the right direction.”

The water conditions projection of Sanpete and the entire state are determined by two processes. The current conditions in the developed valleys of Sanpete County are recorded by a data collection system called SCAN, or Soil Climate Analysis Network. The conditions of potential water supply for the coming year come from SNOTEL, or SNOwpack TELemetry.

The lowland areas Sanpete County and all of Utah are currently under moderate drought status, according to SCAN data. This is based on data collection from the lower elevation agricultural land and rangeland. Normally, this time of year has significantly more moisture, and nearly all the months leading up to now have been dry as well compared to last year.

The San Pitch River Basin is the watershed most closely associated with Sanpete County, and its SNOTEL numbers show some improvements from precipitation over the past month, but the overall outlook is still very grim. February had above-average precipitation, at 123 percent of normal, but that only brought the seasonal accumulation from October-February to only 69 percent of average. According to Clayton, soil moisture in the San Pitch River Basin is now at 37 percent of average, compared to 55 percent held this time last year. Perhaps most grim stat is the reservoir storage for the San Pitch is currency at zero percent capacity, a stark contrast to the 60 percent capacity the reservoir storage held this time last year.

The conditions projected for the coming year spell hard times for farmers and almost certain rationing of water in heavily affected communities.