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New Water Year Brings Hopes For Improvement

Judy Fahys/KUER
Forecasters say a strong El Nino could mean a cooler, wetter winter for southern Utah.

The water year begins on October 1st, and the water community is hoping a string of dry years is finally coming to an end.

Ryan Luke, an engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo Area office, says a few reservoirs are at close to normal levels but most are low for this time of year.

“We’re dealing with a fourth year of below normal conditions in a row here,” he says. “The operators, the water users – many of them have shut down early trying to anticipate and prepare for next season in case we do get another rough snowpack.”

The Natural Resources and Conservation Service is reporting that nearly 30 streams are running "below normal" or "much below normal." That makes sense because of last year’s record warm and dry winter. But a wet May and near-average precipitation last month has left reservoir levels even a bit lower than last year at this time.

Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, says he won’t begin forecasting next year’s water trends until January.

“By then we at least have started our snowpack accumulation,” he says. “We have a little better idea where, maybe, we’re heading.”

Forecasters say a strong El Nino weather pattern hints at cool, wet weather in southern Utah. But the National Climate Data Center forecast has equal chances of wet, dry or normal weather for northern Utah.

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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