For the first time in four consecutive years, Tooele County lost its drought status last spring after a decent 2016-17 winter that brought above normal precipitation and soaked parched soil profiles and helped recharge aquifers.
But what a difference a year can make.
As reported in last Thursday’s edition, Tooele County is again looking down the barrel at a summer fraught with limited water and a clarion call for conservation and stewardship.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which keeps tabs on water conditions across the country for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, central and western Tooele County is currently in a state of moderate drought. But the eastern side of the county, from the Great Salt Lake to the Tooele/Juab county line, is in severe drought. That area includes all of the county’s major population centers in Tooele and Rush valleys, and nearby mountain ranges.
The U.S. Drought Monitor isn’t the only agency letting it known the county is headed for another summer of dry times. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, SnoTel sites in eastern Tooele County, those devices that measure the amount of water in snowpack, are showing some grim numbers for early May.
As of last week, SnoTel at Mining Fork in the Stansbury Mountains was at 5 percent of normal for May 1. Rocky Basin in the Oquirrh Mountains above Settlement Canyon was at 29 percent, and Vernon Creek at 20 percent.
With so little water-soaked snowpack to be had, local reservoirs that provide irrigation water are behind. Tooele and Grantsville reservoirs are below capacity for early May.
But there’s another key point that ultimately is the why behind the what: Total precipitation for the 2017-18 water year in Tooele City measured 8.19 inches on April 30. The water year precipitation normal by April 30 is 12.19 inches, which means the current water year here is four inches behind normal. In a place that normally gets only around 18 inches of total precipitation per water year, four inches is a big deficit.
With only five months left of the 2017-18 water year, and four of those five are historically the driest of the year, it doesn’t look like local water stats are going to improve. And if summer’s hot winds begin to blow, the county’s drought ranking may worsen.
With local reservoirs, snowpack and total precipitation behind normal, it appears water users face yet another summer of restrictions or calls for conservation to make sure there’s enough water for all.
Where this is all headed is anyone’s guess. But according to NOAA’s long-range forecast center, the next 90 days for Tooele County are calling for above-normal temperatures and below normal precipitation. May is the last month of the water year that normally receives nearly two inches of precipitation. Time will tell if that holds true.
With such prevailing conditions, it appears certain the county’s most precious resource will be in limited supply — or worse — for yet another summer. Residents and officials should prepare for and expect water supplies to be a major concern. And they should respond with a commitment to stewardship and frugality to make sure none is wasted.