UTAH DROUGHT

Weber Basin official: Snowfall should fill reservoirs, boost Great Salt Lake

Feb 13, 2023, 6:30 AM | Updated: 3:57 pm

The Great Salt Lake, photographed from Antelope Island on April 23, 2022. (Tim Vandenack, Standard-...

The Great Salt Lake, photographed from Antelope Island on April 23, 2022. (Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner)

(Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education, and media organizations to help inform people about the history and the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

The head of one of the key water suppliers in and around Weber and Davis counties is offering a very upbeat water projection going forward thanks to the heavy snowfall so far this winter.

“We’re smiling over here. This is good news,” said Scott Paxman, general manager of the Layton-based Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

With snowpack way above 30-year averages all along the Wasatch Front thanks to the wet winter, Paxman predicts all the reservoirs within the Weber Basin district, including Pineview Reservoir, will reach capacity in the spring and summer as the precipitation melts and flows downhill. As of Wednesday, the snow-water equivalent in the Weber River basin was 150% of the 30-year average for 1991-2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

“We think there’s a good chance they will all fill. All of our reservoirs are going to fill,” Paxman said.

This screengrab of a map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service website shows that the snow-water equivalent in the Weber River basin amounted to 150% of the 30-year average as of Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

His rosy projection covers Pineview, Causey, Lost Creek, Smith and Morehouse, East Canyon and Echo reservoirs. Pineview, the closest reservoir to Ogden, sat at 43.3% capacity as of Thursday, according to Utah Department of Natural Resources data.

Moreover, Paxman says the extra snowfall could result in a bump of perhaps 3 feet in the level at the Great Salt Lake, which reached its record low of around 4,188.6 feet above sea level last November and measured 4,190.1 feet as of Wednesday, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That would hardly replenish the lake to what experts regard as a healthy level. But if Paxman’s estimate pans out, the influx would boost the water level to around 4,193 feet compared to this week’s measurements, on par with measurements from around August 2020.

The low range of the optimal level for a healthy Great Salt Lake is 4,198 feet in elevation, according to a Utah Senate resolution proposal that set that level as the goal in efforts to replenish the drying body of water. The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, stalled in committee earlier this month.

His optimism notwithstanding, Paxman emphasizes that the snowfall so far this winter hardly resolves Utah’s water woes.

“It does not put us out of the drought,” he said, though the snowfall is “a great start.”

Indeed, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District implemented strict lawn watering rules last summer stemming from dry conditions and falling levels in Pineview and other reservoirs. Paxman maintains that the strict watering rules ought to be the norm — lawns don’t need more than two waterings a week, he says.

“We’re not going to let off the pressure of really pushing conservation and being efficient with the water we have,” he said.

The heavy snowfall raises the specter of flooding at lower elevations like western Weber County once the snowpack starts melting. As such, when spring comes, Paxman said Weber Basin officials will closely monitor reservoir levels. “We’ll be managing it the best we can,” he said.

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Weber Basin official: Snowfall should fill reservoirs, boost Great Salt Lake