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Heavy May Rain Helps Farmers But Won't Cure Drought

Judy Fahys/KUER
Forecasters say the storms are expected to continue through the weekend.

The weather forecast includes a decent chance of rain through the holiday weekend. It’s going to spoil plenty of outdoor activities, but some Utahns are grateful for the relief it’s brought, at least for the time being.

Grantsville farmer Ernest Matthews is one. He welcomes this rainy May for what its done for the range his cows graze and the alfalfa he grows.

“We hadn’t had any rain or snow hardly at all,” he says. “We were just dry as dry.”

The storms that dropped 180 percent of normal precipitation at the Salt Lake City Airport turned the mountains near Matthews green. His cows finally have grass to munch after the driest winter on record, and Matthews says the irrigation company is pleased by what it sees on the rain gauge.

“Probably five inches from the storms,” he says.

“And how did that affect you?” a reporter asks.

“Oh, it’s saved us, is what it’s done.”

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, says the rain’s made a big difference.

“When you look at where the big benefit from this rain is coming from,” he says, “it’s the fact that people aren’t using reservoir water, they’re using rainwater to irrigate their grass and their landscapes, and they’re not using the stored water. And that’s where this helps tremendously.”

Water restrictions began this spring throughout Utah before the rains did. And it’s possible that the precipitation deficits built up around the state since last fall could be erased before June.

But McInerney says it’s unlikely to eliminate Utah’s water worries this year: “To say that our drought is over is untrue.”

McInerney says the cold and the precipitation doesn’t help as much now as it would have if it was winter, when the melt and runoff could make the water last through 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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