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Water Managers "Cautiously Optimistic" About 2015

More than a dozen water managers met at the National Weather Service office in Salt Lake City Tuesday to hear from forecasters, and many left cautiously optimistic about 2015 even though the past three years have been drier than normal in Utah.

The water watchers have seen two very dry years followed by a third that had average precipitation or close to it in much of the state.

Randy Julander, a hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the group it could have been worse.

“Still shaded to the bottom side of the average as opposed to the above side,” he said. “But not too bad from where we sit at January 1.”

Average reservoir levels still aren’t close to normal at about 60 percent full. But monsoon rains and the remnants of two hurricanes saved Utah from a dismal 2014. Now soil moisture and snowpack hover close to average.

“The thing that gives us hope is looking at these reservoirs and seeing that the carryover storage is much improved relative to last year,” Lee Traynham, a hydrologist for the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“A few good storms would really help us out, and we’re going to stay optimistic that things are going to be good this year.”

From here, water managers closely watch snowpack and spring runoff. That’s the water people use to drink and farms use for irrigation.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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