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Front Page » January 10, 2012 » Carbon County News » Floods unlikely, but that's the only good water news
Published 1,045 days ago

Floods unlikely, but that's the only good water news


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

While there aren't many people who are concerned about how little winter weather the Carbon County area has had this year, the snow pack, or lack of it, will be a problem come this spring if things don't change.

Or maybe the problem will come more in the spring of 2013 if another winter like this takes place.

Anyone who likes snow, whether it be people who enjoy winter recreation, those who like to see reservoirs refilled each spring or those that worry about the health of the forest areas in the eastern part of the state, realizes there is little snow in the mountains this year. It could be a big problem for a number of reasons.

First, of course, is water storage. Scofield Reservoir, the main source of water for most of the agriculture and municipal use in the western and central part of the county, is very full right now. It has been pretty full ever since the end of last spring's runoff.

In fact, last year was one of only a handful of years since the dam was built in the 1940s that the spillway actually overflowed. The water that is presently in the reservoir is next summer's insurance, and a little for the year after next as well. But should another winter take place like the one the area has been having so far this year in 2012-13, water supplies could be in big trouble.

Right now Scofield is about 80 percent full. The reservoir's usable capacity is almost 66,000 acre feet of water. Right now it has about 49,000 acre feet in it as compared to average years at this time when almost 33,000 acre feet.

At the quarterly Carbon Water Conservation District meeting in December, river commissioner Bob Davis gave a bit of a gloomy report about what had fallen in terms of snow around Scofield. He said the reservoir's level is high "but we have really had no snow to speak of yet."

The Utah Water Outlook Report issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service last week showed the basin-wide average for the Carbon, Emery, Wayne and San Juan Basins is 61 percent of normal since Oct. 1, 2011 (when the water year begins) compared to 187 percent last year.

Snowpack also is the main source of water for the forested areas in the eastern Utah and the Manti-LaSal National Forest is no exception. The forests in the area took a big hit during the drought years in the first decade of this century, losing a lot of the alpine evergreen forest in the process. The drought weakened the trees, and the pine bark beetles moved in, killing thousands of them. Anyone driving up Huntington Canyon or over Skyline Drive can see the effects. Another dry spell could be devastating.

Moisture levels in the ground in the valleys in the eastern part of the state are also dropping. Despite some good rain in the fall, since that time there has been only a couple of inches of snow, and the cold, dry temperatures have depleted good deal of that moisture.

At present the southeast soil moisture index is about 42 percent, much lower than in November when it was in the high 50s. Grass, brush and trees around the area could be affected if some kind of moisture does not get into the ground by the time the real growing season starts. Even residential and irrigated areas will feel the crunch if natural moisture doesn't move in.

The entire state of Utah is dry, but the Western Colorado River Basin is lower in snow pack and precipitation more than any other place in the state. One or another high pressures have sat across the northern part of the state for almost two months letting very little moisture come through. And in the east, where the biggest storms come from the south, southern storms have gone much farther south than usual, hitting northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Precipitation levels have dropped every month since October beginning in that month with 120 percent of average. December's water precipitation was a little over 60 percent over the entire basin.

Snow is scarce even in some parts of the state that are usually inundated with the white stuff. This dog team runs down The Co-op Creek Road north of Strawberry Reservoir which is covered with about three inches of ice and shows places in the distance where the snow and ice have melted completely off. No snow had fallen for at least seven days in the area when this photo was taken last Friday. Most of the time the white stuff in this area in January is waist deep and sometimes much deeper.

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January 10, 2012
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