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January 14, 2014
Careful stewardship

With another summer of drought predicted, citizens are urged to treat both water and land as precious resources 

Unless the current weather pattern takes a sudden turn to heaps of snowfall for the next three months, it appears certain Tooele County will experience yet another summer of drought. In fact, make that three in a row.

In last Thursday’s A-1 story, “Another summer of drought on the horizon?,” Randy Julander, a snow survey supervisor for the Salt Lake office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said although area mountain snow packs aren’t that far behind normal, it likely won’t be enough to provide ample supplies of irrigation water this year.

Two developments are behind that unfortunate scenario: Firstly, local reservoirs are at staggering low winter levels. According to Julander, Settlement Canyon Reservoir is currently at 30 percent of normal, Grantsville is at 24 percent, and Vernon is at 17 percent. At those numbers, the reservoirs have received abnormally little recharge since last fall.

Secondly, Julander says, soil profiles in area watersheds are suspected to again be excessively dry. When spring arrives, it is suspected mountain snowmelt will be more prone to disappear into the ground instead of run on the surface and flow into reservoirs.

Combine those two developments with the following local weather facts and drought conditions this summer again appear imminent.

Julander says area snow packs as of last week were 71 percent of normal in Settlement Canyon, 92 percent at Mining Fork, and 74 percent at Vernon Creek. With roughly three more months left of winter, there is a chance that consistent, heavy storm cycles could turn things around. But Julander only gives that a 10 to 15 percent chance of occurring. His prediction isn’t just a hunch. National Weather Service climate forecasts predict only average precipitation for northern Utah during the next few months.

In terms of the area’s water availability this summer, the snow survey supervisor summarizes the situation as this is “not a good place to be.”

With such a grim water projection, we are faced with two big concerns this summer, and citizens are encouraged to make a positive difference to avoid negative outcomes.

The first involves water. Even if there are frequent episodes of cool, moist weather throughout the summer, water users should anticipate official restrictions as preventative steps to keep supplies available. Furthermore, they should anticipate and prepare now to adjust for that possible reality. Brown lawns may just have to do.

Fire is the second concern. Precipitation received during winter, and the spring to come, will result in new vegetation this summer in the mountains, valleys and Great Salt Lake Desert. As the weather inevitably turns hot and dry, this new vegetation may fall dormant or die. As a result, the likelihood of wildfires may increase dramatically.

Lightning-caused wildfires are the work of Mother Nature’s own hand. Remember last August’s Patch Springs Wildfire that burned more than 30,000 acres on the west side of the Stansbury Mountains? But wildfires caused by man are another story. Untended campfires, or other reckless or thoughtless acts, are preventable. With another summer of drought — possibly severe drought — predicted, citizens who frequent the outdoors are urged to be vigilant about preventing wildfires.

If weather patterns repeat themselves, this summer will likely be hot, dry and windy. With water supplies forecasted to run low, and mountains, valleys and the Great Salt Lake Desert vulnerable to wildfires, citizens are urged to treat both water and land as precious natural resources that demand careful stewardship.

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