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‘We are about as wet as we can get,’ Utah water expert says

Utah is enjoying its 5th best start to a water year since records have been kept

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James Donigan split-boards past a partially buried speed limit sign in Millcreek Canyon.

James Donigan split-boards past a partially buried speed limit sign in Millcreek Canyon on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

There is another storm predicted to roll into Utah Tuesday night, delivering additional snow and rain to already soggy conditions.

Water experts who track water supply conditions couldn’t be happier.

“It is refreshing to see these basins in dark blue,” the color denoting triple-digit percentages of how much water, or snow, has hit the ground, rather than “red conditions,” which have been the norm of parched basins for what seems like forever, said Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey.

Clayton was among those weather watchers and trackers who spoke at a Tuesday meeting detailing the state’s water supply outlook, and the view is looking great.

In fact, all the state’s basins are sitting at 150% of normal, and right now, the amount of snowpack statewide is 176% of normal.

“It’s really positive,” Clayton said.

There are 80 days left in the water year that ends in April, with more potential for storms, and already, Clayton said, the state is at 80% of its goal of reaching normal peak runoff conditions.

“This is the fifth best start in our year for water supply in the period we’ve had records,” Clayton said, pointing to ample water (and flood) years like 1997, 2005 and 2011.

Glen Merrill, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said soil moisture content in the basins is above average, which bodes for a good runoff with additional storms forecast to add to those conditions.

“So about as wet as we could get,” he said, adding that for the last several weeks, the storms have been nonstop. “Precipitation has been great this year.”

Tuesday’s storm will linger into Wednesday and Thursday, and then the precipitation will taper off and give residents a bit of a reprieve. Merrill added that all next week remains in the grip of an unsettled and potentially wet pattern for activity and he says he sees that storminess hanging on at least through the end of January.

The sheen the silver lining lacks is the condition of Utah’s reservoirs, which were heavily tapped last year during record heat and drought conditions. Merrill said statewide they are at 45% capacity, down 5% from last year.

And folks like Clayton, Merrill and water providers hope 2023 does not turn into a repeat of 2022, in which new moisture vanished during January and February.

So, Utah’s water experts hope the snowpack accumulation season continues to perform well, while warning there’s no doubt that flooding as a result of Utah’s “feast or famine” approach to snow should be something residents plan on this spring.