More deep snowpack years needed to lift Utah from drought

Feb 23, 2023, 3:21 PM | Updated: 3:26 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has had so many solid winter storms this season that we are well above the average for snowpack.  But when it comes to the drought situation in Utah, this is not a one-and-done deal.

“We’ve been talking about needing a winter like this for a while,” Jordan Clayton a snowpack surveyor supervisor said.

This year’s snowpack is a big step in the right direction and is helping to loosen the drought’s grip on the Beehive state.

Clayton said, “There are three basins in the state that are still areas of concern, despite the fact that we have all this snow.”

He’s talking about the Sevier, Bear, and Provo Basins. “All those systems are expected to get above normal runoff, but they have really depleted reservoirs and it’s going to take a lot of water to fill those back up,” he said.

Clayton thinks this winter is an ideal start to a long road of recovery.

“A year like this is really going to kind of turn the table a little bit to help us out,” said National Weather Service hydrologist Glen Merrill.

With Utah’s complex reservoir system, it’s going to take time. There’s more than one mouth to feed.

“All those really major reservoir systems of course, also need to be replenished and so we’re going to see some of the water stay in those buckets, so to speak,” Clayton said.

It’s a trickle-down effect as the runoff makes its way from primary lakes to downstream bodies of water.

Later this summer, some will reach 100% capacity. However, some of the crowd favorites are a far cry from full pool.

“I mean, we’re not going to fill them up. That’s going to take, hopefully, many, many years of above-normal snowpack to make really important gains,” Clayton added.

To really start to make a dent at the big spots like Bear Lake, Lake Powell, and the Great Salt Lake, we need this winter on repeat.

“We’re going to need to have multiple years like this, and hopefully back-to-back,” Clayton said.

Merrill said it would be nice to have water for recreation, but he stressed Utah’s snowpack accounts for more than just summer fun. “We get 90 to 95% of our water supply from snowmelt runoff, from our snowpack,” he said.

Researcher: Snow depth doubles in 30 days at some sites

This year’s snowpack numbers are within that range to raise levels, but with just over a month left in the season, will we maintain it through April 1st?

“When we look at the most probable number, we would probably be around 150% of normal by the time we get to the end of our snowpack season,” Clayton said.

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More deep snowpack years needed to lift Utah from drought