For the first time in more than four years, Tooele County — along with the rest of the state — no longer has the dreaded word “drought” included in every weather forecast. As reported in last Thursday’s front-page story “Big storms push March, water year to above normal levels,” winter 2016-17 has been a good one.
According to local weather observer Ned Bevan for the National Weather Service, March — the second wettest month of the water year — truly delivered. It received 4.25 inches of moisture at Bevan’s measuring station in Tooele City. Normal for the month is 2.32 inches.
Six months into the 2016-17 water year, total precipitation at Bevan’s station measured 13.02 inches. Normal precipitation at the six-month mark is 10.72 inches, which means the water year is more than two inches ahead of schedule. Water years start on Oct. 1 and end on Sept. 30.
April is historically the wettest month here, and so far, it looks like it may meet or exceed its normal mark of 2.49 inches. Last weekend’s storm drenched Tooele City with snow, sleet and rain. With only 11 days into the month, Bevan reported that April’s precipitation total currently stands at 1.37 inches.
Meantime, snowpack in the Oquirrh, Stansbury and Sheeprock mountains has also been stellar. SnoTel snow/water equivalent readings at those locations on March 31 were at 129, 134 and 111 percent of average, respectively. According to SnoTel charts, it has been three years since such deep snowpack has accumulated on those ranges and stayed this long.
More good water news is seen at Settlement, Grantsville and Vernon reservoirs. Except for Settlement, the reservoirs are either full or nearly full. Gary Bevan, president of Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company, said Tuesday that the reservoir’s level is rising three inches per day and he expects it to completely fill once mountain runoff begins.
With deep mountain snowpack yet to melt, it appears local reservoirs and summer irrigation water availability may go through summer 2017 without mandatory restrictions for the first time in years. But here’s a bigger achievement: With local soil profiles well moistened, the U.S. Drought Monitor has dropped Tooele County off its radar. Less than two years ago, the county’s drought status was rated by the drought monitor as “extreme,” and portions of the county were rated as the most drought-stricken in Utah.
Which brings all of this to an important point: Over confidence about this water year’s abundance may be unwise. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s 90-day forecast for Tooele County shows a 40 percent chance of above normal temperatures, with an equal chance for above, normal and below normal precipitation.
If temperatures get hot early and hold well into fall, and the generous storms of winter give way to months of dry, blue skies, one has to wonder how long this winter’s generous moisture will last.
Local officials and citizens are urged to remember that such abundance in the desert can be short lived. The current drought reprieve is welcome, yet everyone is urged to take preventative steps to preserve and efficiently use local water supplies.