After a terribly dry start to the 2017-18 water year, which began on Oct. 1, it looks like Tooele County may be headed back to persistent drought, an unwanted status that it held for years, but gladly lost last spring after a generous winter of good storms.
Those storms created deep mountain snowpack that filled reservoirs by early summer and soaked parched soil profiles. But in less than a year, it looks like we may be headed for unwanted dry times again.
But no one can say we weren’t warned.
As reported in last Tuesday’s edition, Randy Julander, newly retired snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, called the 2017-18 water year “crummy,” with nearly the entire state at far below normal conditions. Even worse, he said, there is only a remote chance of getting back to average.
“Every day that goes by without a storm puts us deeper in the hole with less probability of recovery,” he said. “Water managers should be developing strategies to deal with stream flows that could reach record low levels.”
Julander isn’t being overly dramatic. Current precipitation and snowpack numbers tell a compelling story that shouldn’t be ignored.
According to the National Weather Service, Tooele City’s water year by Dec. 31 was seriously in the red. Total normal precipitation for the city by the end of December is 4.98 inches with 30.8 inches of total snow. But that total stood at only 1.83 inches with only 9 inches of snow on Dec. 31. December’s normal precipitation total is 1.48 inches and 16.9 inches of snow, but last month received only 0.65 inches of precipitation and only 8.5 inches of snow.
Up high it looks just as bleak. SnoTel sites, which measure water content in snowpack, currently indicate this spring’s runoff may be nothing more than spittle. In the Oquirhh Mountains, SnoTel in Rocky Basin above Settlement Canyon was only 26 percent of normal. At Mining Fork in the Stansbury Mountains, SnoTel there shows only 53 percent.
With such low numbers, the hope now is the rest of this winter and coming spring will see a surge of above normal precipitation and snowfall to erase the deficit. But whether or not that will occur is anyone’s guess, based on the National Weather Service’s extended forecast through March.
Computer models are calling for an equal chance of below, normal or above normal precipitation — with above normal temperatures — between now and April 1, and even through May. A similar extended forecast of “equal chance” has been in place for our area of Utah since fall.
According to the weather service’s U.S. Drought Monitor, the county and most of the state has been given a moderate drought (D1) ranking, with areas of severe drought (D2) in the south and southeast end of the state, and pockets of abnormally dry (D0) at the north end.
May it get no worse than that. Better yet, may “equal chance” turn from dry to wetter times ahead. But if it doesn’t, we have been duly warned and careful stewardship of local water supplies must be a priority.