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Drought woes: More boat ramp closures, hay shortages, and now fecal matter in water

August brings worsening drought conditions to Utah

Boaters are seen at Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Utah’s drought has forced the closure of the Rock Cliff and Ross Creek boat ramps at Jordanelle. Only smaller, nonmotorized boats are allowed to be launched from the old road at the bottom of the Rock Cliff ramp.
Boaters are seen at Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Utah’s drought has forced the closure of the Rock Cliff and Ross Creek boat ramps at Jordanelle. Only smaller, nonmotorized boats are allowed to be launched from the old road at the bottom of the Rock Cliff ramp.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah’s drought forced the closure of two additional boat ramps and recent storm runoff could deliver fecal matter to recreational waters, prompting officials to urge caution when people get in the water to splash and play.

“Water recreators are advised to take the following precautions: avoid swimming in recreational waters 48-72 hours after a significant rainstorm; avoid swallowing water while swimming; wash hands with soap and clean water before and after swimming, water skiing, or playing in the water or sand,” the Utah Department of Natural Resources warned in its latest weekly drought update issued Wednesday.

“Recreators who experience diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, fever or rash should report the illness to their local health department,” the agency advised.

Exposure to potential fecal matter is heightened this year due to low reservoir levels brought on by the drought.

A kayaker walks over the chain at the Rock Cliff boat ramp at Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The Rock Cliff boat ramp remains out of the water but smaller, nonmotorized vessels may be launched off the old road at the bottom of the ramp.
A kayaker walks over the chain at the Rock Cliff boat ramp at Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The Rock Cliff boat ramp remains out of the water but smaller, nonmotorized vessels may be launched off the old road at the bottom of the ramp.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Closure of the Rock Cliff and Ross Creek boat ramps at Jordanelle Reservoir means nine boat ramps across the state have been idled due to low-water conditions. Caution advisories have been issued for seven additional state park boat ramps.

Although robust storms swept into the state as a result of the monsoon season, those storms did nothing to help reservoir levels that are continuing to decline: down to an average of 53% capacity this week compared to last week’s 55%.

“Recent monsoons have soaked many parts of the state. This much-needed rain has helped reduce wildfire risk and temporarily improve soil moisture and streamflows. The storms have not, however, pulled us out of this drought,” said Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Brian Steed.

“Hopefully, steady rain and snow will continue into this winter when it will have the most significant impact on drought conditions,” Steed said.

Despite those storms, the drought report notes that it would still take 12 inches of rain to restore conditions to “average.”

Overall, the state has seen 62.4% of the precipitation typically received in a normal water year, which begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.

Many irrigation systems have announced an early shut-off this summer, putting a strain on both farmers and ranchers.

The Dobben family, who is visiting from Illinois, makes the walk back to their car after kayaking at Jordanelle State Park near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The Rock Cliff boat ramp remains out of the water but smaller vessels may be launched off the old road at the bottom of the ramp.
The Dobben family, who is visiting from Illinois, makes the walk back to their car after kayaking at Jordanelle State Park near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The Rock Cliff boat ramp remains out of the water but smaller vessels may be launched off the old road at the bottom of the ramp.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The department reports that 77% of hay and roughage supplies are rated as short or very short, and 69% of pasture and rangelands are rated as poor to very poor.

Some drinking water systems, too, are either entirely depleted, such as Echo’s in Summit County, and others are compromised, with Stockton officials announcing that flooding damaged the system’s water intake. Stockton is now running off a backup well powered by a generator.

The city is asking residents to refrain from using any water outdoors except for livestock. Household use is acceptable.

Anyone with questions can call Town Hall at 435-882-3877 Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City grimly reported that July broke an all-time record for being the hottest month ever documented at Salt Lake City International Airport since records first started being kept in 1874.

Will August bring us even warmer weather?

Christine Kruse, lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said she is not betting on August topping July’s heat record.

Although the next 14 days look to deliver above-average temperatures, she said it is unlikely August will give us 11 days of temperatures that hit triple digits as July did.

In addition, it’s predicted there will be another monsoon surge this month, which dampens the heat.

“I can’t remember a year when we had a monsoon surge when we didn’t have a second surge,” Kruse said.

Cracked earth is seen in the waterbed of Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas,
Cracked earth is seen in the waterbed of Jordanelle Reservoir near Kamas on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Utah’s drought has forced the closure of the Rock Cliff and Ross Creek boat ramps at Jordanelle.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News