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Precip near normal, but reservoirs have lots of loss to make up

Sun Advocate publisher

A report issued on Monday by the Natural Resource Conservation Service should bring a little rest to minds that are concerned about the water outlook so far this year.

Compared to last year's anemic water year, the report says that the Price River water basin and the San Rafael water basin are both near normal or even a little above for the water year which started Oct. 1, 2012.

The total precipitation for the area was not very good at the beginning of December. In October rainfall/snowmelt in the area only totaled about 60 percent of normal for the month. November was not much better with only about 79 percent of normal. However, December nearly made up for those shortfalls with several days beginning about the middle of the month when heavy snowfall came down. December had 144 percent of normal precipitation, which brought the areas up to about 97 percent of normal for the first three months of the water year. Snowpack itself is at 110 percent of normal compared to 53 percent that was present at the beginning of January last year.

However, all this good news doesn't mean the area is out of the woods in terms of water supply for the growing season. Reservoir storage in the area is only 46 percent of normal. Last year, it was at 75 percent. Scofield Reservoir is at approximately 43 percent of its capacity. Huntington Reservoir has about the same as Scofield, while Joes Valley and Millsite are hovering around 50 percent of capacity. The worst off is Huntington North which only has between 25 and 30 percent of its capacity.

While the outlook is much better than it was only a couple of months ago because of the increased early winter snow accumulation, what happens in the next three months in terms of precipitation will make a big difference in how the area will fare.

Statewide, the NRCS Snowtel system for the entire state says that snow totals so far range from 92 percent of the median level in the Escalante Basin to 134 percent in southwestern Utah. On top of that the mountain precipitation during December was 123 percent of average which brings the first three months of the water year to 96 percent of normal statewide.

Another important measure of what the water runoff from melting snows could look like in the spring and early summer is the soil moisture content. When that content is low before the snow flies, the next spring when the snow melts it often runs into the ground rather than running off for use or storage in reservoirs. Last summer soil moisture content was extremely low, but now it is much improved with up to 65 percent saturation in certain basins.

However, statewide, one thing is not better than last year. That is the reservoir levels across the state. Last year, because of huge winter precipitation in the winter of 2010-2011, the storage levels averaged 84 percent at this time. This year, because of the dry winter last year and a hot dry summer, that average is only at 64 percent of capacity.

With the weather patterns and the moisture that has fallen so far this water year, the NRCS says that stream flows this spring will be between 80 and 100 percent of normal.

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