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Health, Science & Environment

Storms Boost Snowpack But Forecasters Remain Cautious

Nomadic Lass

Utah's water picture looked grim about a month ago. But February storms have brightened the outlook.

Two years of lower-than-normal precipitation had left many Utah reservoirs half-full at the beginning of the year. Winter storms didn’t help much either, since the snow seemed to fall everywhere east of Utah's mountains. Brian McInerney is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. He says back-to-back storms over the past month have boosted the snow pack on the Wasatch Range.

"It was very nice for two reasons when we got the storms in northern Utah,” McInerney says. “The ski industry picked back up and that's a billion dollar industry. And also water supply for some of the most populated areas of the state increased dramatically. But central and southern Utah and parts of the Unita Basin are still not doing very well."

The Bear River drainage is expected to have normal runoff or even better. The Six Creeks area around the Salt Lake Valley is bouncing back, too. But McInerney says no one can be sure the weather will continue to cooperate through the spring.

"What we want to do now is avoid warming up early,” he says. “We don't want to start melting in March, because then the runoff process becomes very inefficient."

Jeff Niermeyer is director of the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Department. His agency delivers water to more homes and businesses than any other water supplier in the state. Niermeyer is happy to see the snow piling up in the mountains.

But he's still making plans for a dry spring that could stress water supplies for a third year in a row.

"A month ago, I was much more concerned than I am now,” he says. “Our projected supply is close to 100 percent, and so I think we'll be okay this year. But again I'm looking not to drain the whole bucket because we want some insurance for next year."

The state's water managers meet on Thursday to compare notes about reservoirs and runoff.

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