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Utah's Paltry Snowpack Means Skimpy Runoff

Lynn Kitchen
Measuring snowpack has been a lonely pursuit this after a warm, dry winter at the Bryce Canyon snow course.

Utah’s warm, dry winter means a measly snowmelt, and water-watchers are already writing off this water year as one of the state’s driest ever even though it’s just halfway over.

Most years, the dogs splashing in Parley’s Creek would find the water here cold and swift with spring snowmelt. But the stream’s running at about one-third of normal for this time of year, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Forecasters say there’s no more runoff to look forward to.

Randy Julander tracks water for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He says Parley’s Creek is just one data point in a dismal tally of water statistics statewide.

“We are now at the lowest snowpack of the last 35 years or so on the Weber, the Tooele, the Provo, the northern Uintas, the Duchesne, the Price, the San Rafael and the Sevier,” he says.

More than a quarter of Julander’s measuring sites have never recorded so little snow. Reservoirs may be close to last year’s levels, but the skimpy snowpack means they won’t fill up.

Temperatures have been record warm all winter. And precipitation last month was less than half of normal.

Julander blames a weather pattern that’s been stuck for a surprising four years in a row.

“We hope it goes away, and we hope it goes away soon,” he says. “You know, its like that family member that comes back and stays and stays and never goes away.”

The winter climate’s having other impacts too. The Utah Avalanche Center closed for the season on April Fool’s Day, about month early. And Gov. Gary Herbert has hinted that Utah could see water rationing this summer.

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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