Southeastern Utah is experiencing a severe drought this winter in snowfall and snowmelt. March 2018 provided a more optimistic outlook for the summer’s water supply, but Utah’s Natural Resources Conservation Service worries it may not be enough to sustain the region throughout the summer.
According to an NRCS study, southeastern Utah’s snowpack accumulation stands at 56 percent of the normal recorded average. Though the winter saw extremely low numbers, March represented an optimistic upswing for the state.
“Believe it or not we don’t have to go back too far to find a worse April 1st snowpack. April 1, 2015 basin snowpack numbers were hovering right around 41 percent of normal and the snowpack started declining after March 1,” the study reported. “Fast forward three years and the month of March increased our snowpack by about 10 percent moving our current basin snowpack normal closer to 60 percent. We can add to that happy thought that many of our reservoirs are over 75 percent full thanks to carryover from last year.”
In precipitation, March was the wettest month this year to date. However, while Utah received an average of one inch of precipitation, southern Utah received on average only .3 inches, according to the NRCS April climate and water report. As the growing season begins, soil moisture remains below average, raising soil temperatures in the area significantly.
“There still isn’t a whole lot of water in the lake, and there’s still not a lot of snow on the mountain,” said GWSSA Manager Dana Van Horn of drought conditions in Moab.
The positive thing is that it’s still not below a 50-year average.
“The water is average, the snow is not,” Van Horn replied.
On March 15, 2017, the soil in the La Sal Mountain Basin was 57 percent saturated, compared to only nine percent saturation this year.
The GWSSA has already begun to react to the drought, planning for a dry summer.
“We have placed a 30-percent restriction on Ken’s Lake irrigation water users for the 2018 growing season,” reported Van Horn. “The restriction may be increased or reduced/eliminated depending on future runoff and precipitation.”
As of April 1, the lake sits at a capacity of 1,350 acre-feet, an increase from the 1,337 acre-feet measured on March 15. Though significantly lower than the 1,742 acre-feet recorded in 2017, the lake remains above levels recorded in 2014.