Water outlook good - so far
Playing catch-up at anything is never easy. And with water resources it is harder than most.
But if Utah intends to catch up from two years of low snow totals and a lack of moisture, the start of this water year looks pretty good.
Each year the water gauge resets on Oct.1 as a new official water year begins. But the water that is left over in the reservoirs and the soil does carry over to the new years measurements. The state never has to start completely from scratch when it comes to water resources.
To the point rains this past September left the soils in much of the state in good shape. And snow falling this month has added to the hope that this winter will be much better than last.
"We are off to a good start with snowpack and have outstanding soil moisture from Provo south and it is adequate in the north" said Randy Julander, the state's snow measurement supervisor in a report released on Tuesday.
Soil moisture statewide is at 73 percent compared to 36 percent last year. Soil moisture is important because if it is high in early winterwhen the snow starts to fall, when the it melts in the spring more water will run off into reservoirs rather than soak into the ground.
However, Julander pointed out that while the water that is in the soil is good, reservoir storage is not so bright.
"Reservoir storage is down about 8 percent (overall across the state) from last year," stated Julander.
On top of the September rains, October's precipitation was nearly 99 percent of average in most areas.
In actuality, the reserves for water in the state, and for Castle Country in particular, is in the snow that comes down in the mountains during the late fall, winter and early spring. Then when the snow melts the reservoirs capture water in many of the drainage basins giving a good supply for the entire growing season which runs from May through September.
While drought cycles have always come and gone, in Utah there has been an up and down cycle on water for well over a decade. Three years ago the areas mountains were pummeled with snow and the reservoirs filled. Soil moisture was good. Then came two lack luster moisture years. These two years have put a strain on many of the states reservoirs. Scofield Reservoir has carried most of Carbon County through the past two summers with the reservoir's capacity dropping from nearly 100 percent after that strong winter to only about 28 percent at the present time. Another bad year, with little snow could create real problems as users start to draw large amounts of water from the reservoir next spring.
Based on assessments in the latest state water report that was put out on Tuesday by the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) other reservoirs that supply Castle Country are in better shape than Scofield with some of them actually having higher totals of water behind their dams than they did last year at this time. Joe's Valley Reservoir was at 52 percent of capacity at this time last year and is only at 45 percent this year. However, Millsite Reservoir near Ferron is at 69 percent of capacity. Last year it was only at 50 percent. Miller Flat, Cleveland and North Huntington Reservoirs are all showing more water in them this year than last year at this time.
The higher volume of water in these reservoirs may seem a little strange considering that overall the state is down and so are the two major reservoirs in the area. However Beau Uriona, a hydrologist from the Utah State Division of Water Quality explained that with smaller reservoirs those numbers will sometimes appear that way.
"Looking at our data the change between the volume of water in those reservoirs has not changed from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning. "The drawdown on the water has decreased with the colder weather setting in. Also with these small reservoirs, because of their much lower capacity, may start to fill up early in the fall depending on the precipitation."
He also pointed out that the percentages of reservoir capacity sent out in the most recent report are based on each particular reservoir, and a percentage increase in water in one of the smaller reservoirs increases faster because there isn't as much space to fill. Not one of the reservoirs that show more water this year than last is greater than 25 percent in size of the larger Scofield (73,600 acre feet capacity) and Joe's Valley (71,900 acre feet capacity). For instance Millsite, which shows the largest plus percentage difference capacity on Nov. 1 only holds 18,000 acre feet of water when it is full.
The others mentioned are much smaller with Miller Flat (6,393), Cleveland (6,020) and Huntington North (5,690) being much smaller in total capacity.