Water outlook dismal for
Sanpete County as well as state
By Robert Stevens
The water situation in Sanpete County is in rough shape and the entire state needs replenishing snowfall, water conservation officials reported.
“While the 2020 water year in Utah started off with promising snowpack conditions last winter, the spring and summer seasons provided extremely low amounts of mountain precipitation,” said Jordan Clayton, data collection officer with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Utah Snow Survey. “We need the 2021 water year to perform better!”
In fact, the entire state is in rough shape over water, Clayton reported. When October ended, statewide precipitation was at an average accumulation of 0.1 inches, which is extremely low.
“This is reflected in the very low soil moisture levels in almost all locations,” he said. “The continued dryness is also reflected in the extended fire season and extreme drought conditions.”
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.
“Hopefully, the coming weather pattern change will start to erase some of these deficits, but it will take more than this one storm cycle to begin to improve Utah’s drought situation,” said Clayton.
The data from SNOTEL, which projects long-term moisture accumulation in the mountains, doesn’t look good either, said Clayton. That means the 2021 water year is going to start out at a disadvantage.
“Unfortunately, October did not start things off the way we would have hoped,” Clayton reported. “Precipitation at Utah’s SNOTEL sites was only 23 percent of average in October.”
Statewide soil moisture is at record lows—currently only 21 percent of saturation and well below the previous observed levels for this time of year. The valleys of Sanpete County, which are made up of mostly agricultural and rangelands, are currently at 22 percent of normal, down from 25 percent this time last year, according to SCAN data.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of Sanpete County’s current water situation is the SNOTEL data on the Sanpitch River Basin, which is currently at 15 percent of normal. Soil moisture levels are currently at 33 percent, compared to 40 percent last year. On top of that, reservoir storage is at 0 percent, compared to last year’s 24 percent.
The Lower Sevier Basin is also much below average, at 10 percent, reported Clayton, and reservoir storage is at 19 percent of capacity, compared to 35 percent last year.
What does this mean for Sanpete County? Unless precipitation levels increase, irrigation limits will be strict in 2021 and farmers can expect less water for their crops.
“Utah is in critical need of replenishing snow,” Clayton said, “so… everyone say it together now: “Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!” No idea if that will work, but why not try?”