Facebook Twitter

UTAH’S DRY BUT NOT DESPERATE, PANEL DECIDES

SHARE UTAH’S DRY BUT NOT DESPERATE, PANEL DECIDES

The first two months of summer were the driest on record, 13 communities are enduring mild to serious water shortages, farmers want Gov. Mike Leavitt to declare a state of emergency, and sparse mountain forage could devastate dwindling deer herds this winter.

But there is no cause for alarm, the state's Drought Review and Reporting Committee concluded Tuesday.Several on the panel seemed amazed that despite dismal rainfall and intense heat, the state's water supply is still adequate for the year. In some areas there is enough to carry over into next year even with a mediocre winter.

Even chairman Ted Stewart, director of the Department of Natural Resources, toned down his earlier talk of pushing hard for a water conservation campaign if conditions don't improve.

"The conditions are a tribute to those who planned and built the storage systems," Stewart told the committee, referring to reservoirs around the state.

The panel of various state department and division heads decided to continue encouraging their constituents to conserve water for next year. The state has distributed public service announcements urging wise water use to radio stations around the state. Some said the brief advertisements were being aired widely in rural areas of the state while getting scant play along the Wasatch Front.

The 68 percent-below-normal precipitation in June and July marked the driest two-month period on record. And the weather forecast for August calls for more of the same, with above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall, said state Water Resources chief Larry Anderson. Streamflows are already at low September levels, and many smaller waterways could dry up before fall.

But reservoir storage carryover into next year should be normal, Anderson said. Only Bear Lake, Steinaker and Scofield reservoirs are of concern to water supply managers, but the recipients of those storage reservoirs are receiving adequate water this year.

Groundwater levels, which are higher than they were in 1993, are expected to head sharply downward for the remainder of the summer with wells pumping at high volume, Anderson reported.

The areas of the state relying solely on groundwater, springs or direct stream flows are feeling immediate effects of the hot dry weather. Mandatory restrictions have been imposed in Nordic Valley, Midway, Newton, Clarkston and Trenton. Voluntary restrictions have been called for in seven other cities and towns.

While most urban dwellers aren't noticing much difference in their water supply, farmers and ranchers, which have rights to 75 percent of the state's developed water, are experiencing acute impacts of high temperatures and low precipitation.

State Agriculture Department director Cary Peterson said cattle operators are anticipating early withdrawal from federal grazing lands because of forage drying up.Taking cattle off grazing land a month early means a 20 percent to 40 percent economic loss, Peterson said. The hot weather and shortened growing season will also hurt the alfalfa harvest - the state's largest cash crop - which will force feeding costs higher for ranchers.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Water supply: Percentages based on 1961-1990 averages

Reservoir status (% of capacity) July streamflow

Weber River drainage 45%-80% 15%-40%

Sevier River drainage 25%-65% 20%-40%

Virgin River drainage 15%-25%

Bear River drainage 15%-30% 15%-30%

Provo River drainage 30%-75% 30%-60%

Lower Green River drainage 10%-70% 20%-40%