Monsoons won’t solve Utah’s drought woes, but it can put a dent in outdoor water use
Monsoon activity in Utah is above average this year, which can help with outdoor watering usage, but doesn’t make a big difference in terms of the state’s historic drought.
There have been 93 flash flood warnings issued across Utah in 2022 by the National Weather Service as of Aug. 23. That’s the second highest number of warnings in a 20-year stretch, with 2021 being the record holder. Drought conditions can also exacerbate flash flooding.
“Portions of Washington, Iron and Millard counties have approached 600% of normal [precipitation] for this month,” said NWS meteorologist Alex DeSmet. “That equates to some areas having as much as six inches of rain so far this month.”
Flooding over the weekend after a storm in Zion National Park swept away a hiker who was later pronounced dead after a search by park officials and emergency responders. Local leaders in Moab have also declared a state of emergency after a 100-year flood event on Aug. 20.
DeSmet encouraged people to avoid driving through water and to check the forecast when recreating, especially in flood-prone areas.
Drought conditions have improved a little in some areas over the summer, including the southwest corner of Utah. However, monsoons are spotty. In central Utah, which is experiencing exceptional drought, there hasn’t been much moisture.
“These monsoons, unfortunately, aren't a game changer [when it comes to the drought],” said Laura Haskell, the drought coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Resources. “But they are helping to eke it back a little bit.”
About 95% of the state’s water supply comes from snowpack, and reservoirs are designed to catch that runoff and store it. Monsoonal rain doesn’t always make it to reservoirs, said Haskell, and is often muddy and full of debris.
Monsoons can indirectly help state water storage levels, though. Haskell said people can use this moisture for outdoor landscaping, instead of turning on sprinklers and pulling from reservoirs. It has also decreased fire potential in parts of Utah.
“Like 60% of our water can be used for outdoor landscaping,” she said. “So when it rains, if we don't use that, then we're preserving our reservoirs for when we need it later for drinking water.”
In the past few years, Haskell said people have understood the importance of turning off sprinklers and their use is going down when it rains. She said the state also offers rebate opportunities for people to get smart sprinkler systems that automatically turn off when there’s precipitation.
In the long run, Haskell said the region needs to see several years of good snowpack to help with the drought.
“It typically takes about as long to get out of drought as it took to get into drought,” she said. “It's going to take a while and probably a few good winters of snowpack to get out of this drought situation we're in.”