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Wet Weeks Haven't Solved Utah Drought

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Colorado River Basin Forecast Center Screenshot
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The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center is predicting runoff this year will be just 70 percent of normal, but it's still too early in the water year to say whether the situation will improve by the time the water's needed most.

The skies have been generous to Utah in the past few weeks, sprinkling the entire state with more snow and rain than normal. But that’s only part of the story about Utah’s water conditions.

“Our snow situation for today,” says Greg Smith, senior hydrologist for the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, “it doesn’t look too bad.”

But, just three months into what’s known as the “water year,” water watchers remain cautious. Smith says that’s largely because the mountain snow is piling up on extra-dry soil.

“People may say. ‘Well, why are the forecasts only around 70 percent of average for the runoff?’ “ he says. “And that’s the soil moisture that’s pulling it down.”

Smith says it’s still pretty early in the year to predict exactly what Utah’s water situation will be next summer. The El Nino weather pattern drenching California is also affecting southern Utah and could benefit mountains in northern parts of the state through the winter and into spring.

“We’ve been in a pattern that’s been active,” Smith says. “It’s been a little more active over the southern areas, but we have had some decent events up north. We could go either way.”

It’s too soon to say the drought is over in Utah, in Smith’s view, and it probably will be April or May before the water picture for 2016 comes into focus.

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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