It’s way too early to declare the drought is over in the Sanpete Valley, but October was a great start to the new water year as frequent storms brought 190 percent of normal precipitation to the San Pitch River Basin.
According to a Utah Climate and Water Report by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, soil saturation in the Sanpete Valley is also much better than last year at this time.
Agriculture areas in the South Central district reported average rainfall of 1.9 inches in October, with a soil moisture content of 32 percent, compared to 22 percent last year.
Soil moisture in the San Pitch River Basin mountain sites (SNOTEL) is at 78 percent of normal, compared to 33 percent of normal last year.
The bad news can be easily be seen in Sanpete’s reservoirs, which remain at zero percent of capacity, the same as last year.
“October was a very good month for precipitation,” said Troy Brosten, NRCS hydrologist, “but it’s a tough time to predict runoff because it’s just the very beginning of the water season,” he said.
Last year, with really dry soils, runoff was negligible and water levels in reservoirs remained very low, he said. In Sanpete County in particular, this fact has not changed.
However, recent rainfall has “really improved soil saturation,” Brosten said. And if the soils stay wet throughout the winter, the runoff might be better this spring.
The water availability index for the San Pitch is only 17 percent, which means Sanpete remains squarely in drought.
Throughout Utah, October brought 2.1 inches of precipitation to valley locations, said NRCS data collection officer Clayton Jordan. Although the entire state benefitted from October’s storms, Northern Utah fared the best, he said. Soil moisture rebounded significantly due to the heavy precipitation and decreased evaporation rates. The month ended with soil moisture at near record levels, except for the Uintah Basin and southeast areas, which are closer to normal. This is all good news for drought conditions in the state, Jordan said. As Utah’s percentage of exceptional (D4) drought has dropped from 20 percent to 14 percent during the month.
October precipitation in Utah’s mountain locations (SNOTEL) was also well above normal at 196 percent, Jordan said. Statewide, Utah’s mountains received 4.5 inches of precipitation for the month.
“These conditions bode very well for next spring’s snowmelt runoff efficiency,” Jordan said. “Soils are now very likely to remain at moderate to high moisture levels through the winter which will lead to an improved amount of runoff during next spring’s snowmelt season, which ought to help replenish our reservoir system—assuming we get a reasonable amount of snow this winter.”
Unfortunately, Utah’s water supply conditions remain stressed and water managers will need to continue to be diligent, he said.
SNOTEL reports in nearby drainages are all encouraging:
Rainfall in the Upper Sevier Basin in October also improved year over year to come in at 172 percent of average. Soil moisture is at 59 percent compared to 21 percent last year. Reservoir storage is at 13 percent of capacity, compared to 31 percent last year. The water availability index for the Upper Sevier is 19 percent.
Conditions in the Lower Sevier Basin are also better than last year. Precipitation in October was much above average at 151 percent. Soil moisture is at 51 percent compared to 10 percent last year. Reservoir storage is at 11 percent of capacity, compared to 19 percent last year. And the water availability index for the Lower Sevier is only 12 percent.
In the Price and San Rafael Basins, rainfall came in way above average, at 232 percent, for October. Soil moisture is at 78 percent compared to 27 percent last year. Reservoir storage is at 27 percent of capacity, compared to 49 percent last year. The water availability index for the Price River is at 33 percent and 5 percent for Joe’s Valley.