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Utah water officials reported drought conditions ‘intensifying’

(Water flows over the spillway at the East Canyon Dam on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, when the reservoir was full. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – State officials reported Utah’s drought conditions are getting worse. They report the conditions are intensifying, and they noticed a troubling drop in reservoir levels in the past seven days. 

Just one week ago, Utah’s reservoirs were at an average of 61 percent capacity, although some reservoirs were much lower than others. Officials reported 26 out of Utah’s 42 largest reservoirs are below 55 percent of total capacity.

Utah Division of Water Resources Deputy Director Candice Hasenyager said, “Gunnison is empty. Paiute is at ten percent. I was up at Rockport, yesterday, and it’s at about 40 percent, right now. It’s alarming how low the reservoirs are.”

However, in the past seven days, our reservoirs have dropped two points to 59 percent capacity. Hasenyager said that might not appear like much on paper, but that drop is especially troubling since there isn’t any rain in the forecast that could bring those levels up.

“This is water that isn’t going to be refilled any time soon,” she said.

Usually, Utah would have received an average of 27 inches of precipitation by this point in the water year. However, we’ve only received 17 in 2021, which means we would need an additional 10 inches of water by October to reach what we would call normal.

Recent flooding in southern Utah did nothing to improve the overall water picture since there was too much dirt and sediment in the water to be stored.

Plus, water flows into the reservoirs is way down. Hasenyager said six streams across the state showed improvement over the past week, but 65 out of the 96 monitored streams are flowing below normal. 

Hasenyager also reported the Great Salt Lake is roughly three inches away from its historic low. That’s an important source to monitor, even though we don’t use that water for drinking or irrigation.

“I consider the Great Salt Lake as our ‘canary in the coal mine,’” Hasenyager said. “Its levels tell you what our overall water supply is.”

She estimates it will take a few years of good precipitation to bring us out of this problem. With 98 percent of the state in either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, Hasenyager said the only solution is to conserve as much as possible. 

“What that does is that allows us to store water, whether it’s in our reservoirs or our groundwater, for tomorrow,” she said.