We’ve been here before. And since the last time we were wasn’t long ago, we hope this time around isn’t another case of deja vu.
What we’re referring to is this winter’s weather that has brought an end to Tooele County’s long-standing drought. As reported in our April 11 edition, the U.S. Drought Monitor has mostly lifted the county’s drought status.
What has made that possible are the frequent and generous storms that have brought long-awaited — and needed — moisture to the county’s mountains, valleys and Great Salt Lake Desert. Less than two weeks ago, the March Utah Climate and Water Report by the National Resources Conservation Service listed area mountain ranges around Tooele and Rush valleys with high amounts of water-laden snowpack.
For example, snowpack in Rocky Basin in Settlement Canyon above Tooele City, contained 34.6 inches of snow-water equivalent on March 30, according to snow telemetry (SnoTel) measurements by the NRCS. That amount is 157% of the 30-year median for that site in the Oquirrh Mountains.
SnoTel at Mining Fork in the Stansbury Mountains reported 23.6 inches of snow-water equivalent, which is 132% of the 30-year median, and SnoTel at Vernon Creek in the Sheeprock Mountains reported 14.9 inches of snow-water equivalent, which is 186% of the median.
Moisture levels also look vastly improved at lower elevations in Tooele Valley, too.
Ned Bevan, Tooele City weather observer for the National Weather Service, said the 2018-19 water year, which began on Oct. 1, hit 12.57 inches of total precipitation on March 31. Normal total precipitation by the end of March in Tooele City is 9.70 inches.
Successive months of above normal precipitation have pushed Tooele City’s water total to nearly three inches above normal. For an area that normally receives only 18.49 inches of total precipitation per water year, those three inches mean a lot.
But despite all that water-laden snowpack in the high country, we can’t take our eyes off the ball when it comes to using water wisely this coming summer. Although area soil profiles have received a badly needed boost of wetness, let’s not forget how the 2017-18 water year ended last Sept. 30: Dry as dust, with only 10.49 inches of total precipitation. Last winter’s snowfall was abysmal, and less than an inch of rain fell June through September. Normal precipitation during that four-month period is 4.39 inches.
What makes the last water year such a low mark is how it pushed the county deeper into drought, even though the water year before that was stellar like this one. In April 2017, the water year was more than two inches ahead of schedule and snow-water equivalent in area snowpack was well above normal.
April is historically the wettest month of the water year in Tooele City, and according to the National Weather Service, it appears April 2019 may end exceptionally wet. Normal precipitation of the month is 2.49 inches. As of Sunday, the month’s moisture total stood at 3.26 inches.
But such abundance in the desert can be short lived. The current drought reprieve is welcome, yet everyone is urged to continue to preserve and efficiently use local water supplies. Let’s not forget we’ve been here before.