Facebook Twitter

Utah’s snowpack gets a C grade, but many reservoirs will fill

Water managers hoping for more storms

SHARE Utah’s snowpack gets a C grade, but many reservoirs will fill

Water runs down the canyon as the snowpack melts in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Monday, April 20, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If you were to compare this year’s snowpack to a car at the local dealership, it certainly isn’t that flashy, tricked out model everyone yearns for — but it wouldn’t be a used clunker that looks like it was patched together with duct tape.

In essence, after you kick the tires and look under the hood, the conclusion is that it’s an average, ordinary car — or snowpack — that will get most water managers where they want to go.

“It is decent,” said Marlon Duke, spokesman with the Provo area office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that tracks reservoir levels.

“We live in a desert, so it could have been a lot worse than average. It would have been nice if we would have had more rain in the fall so the soils weren’t so dry, but we will take what we can get.”

Duke said because the soils were so dry last fall, much of the anticipated runoff from this season’s snowpack will get sucked into the ground.


Water watchers expect the runoff to be 75% of average, but if a few more storms blow through in what is left of April or even into May, that will help boost that projection.

“If we could have a little more moisture, that would prolong the runoff so we don’t have to start using our storage so quickly,” said Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

“We are not going to end up with any average runoff by any means, but it is looking fine because of the high reservoirs going into the fall.”

The Weber-Ogden Basin drainage is sitting at 102% of average, which Flint said is good.

“We project we will fill all seven major reservoirs up here,” including workhorses like East Canyon and Willard Bay.

Flint said the district is beginning to route water throughout the reservoir system for flood control purposes in case there is a major turn in the weather and it heats up quickly, bringing the snow off in a rapid fashion.

It is a delicate balance, he added, to try to retain as much storage going to the summer yet make enough room for the coming snowmelt.


Snow remains in the mountains in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Monday, April 20, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Other basins around the state are in relatively good shape when it comes to snowpack, with Bear River at 125% of normal and Price-San Rafael — which can struggle — measuring at 123% of normal, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Snow Survey.

Gene Shawcroft, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, said Deer Creek and Jordanelle Reservoir will fill, but Strawberry is significantly below average.

Like Flint, he said it would be best if the weather would stay cool for a few more weeks to delay the runoff which is coming off a winter snowpack that is about as average as he’s seen in a while.

“In my mind this is as close to 100% normal precipitation that we have had across the state in a long time,” he said.

Water districts across the state are having to switch up their operations because of the coronavirus, but they are making it work.

While some district administrators are telecommuting, Flint said the majority of his staff are doing business as usual, with precautions.

“We get a lot of questions about our operations because of COVID-19,” he said. “It is not a waterborne disease and our drinking water is fine. I have 70% of my staff coming to work every day because they have to. There are 700,000 people who depend on our drinking water, so every day they are here. And they’re doing great.”


Water runs off the mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Monday, April 20, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News