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Utah’s reservoirs and streams in ‘impressive’ shape, state says


Utah’s reservoirs and streams in ‘impressive’ shape, state says

Apr 20, 2024 | 8:06 am ET
By Kyle Dunphey
Utah’s reservoirs and streams in ‘impressive’ shape, state says
The Willard Bay portion of the Great Salt Lake is pictured on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Photo by Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)

Utah’s streams and reservoirs are in good shape heading into the spring, with the snowpack likely seeing its peak for the season and runoff expected to bring more water down from the mountains in the coming weeks. 

The Utah Division of Water Resources on Thursday reported the state’s reservoirs at about 85% capacity, which officials say is “impressive” for this time of year. The announcement comes on the heels of an above average winter, with Utah seeing about 132% of the normal snow water equivalent — essentially how much water is in the snowpack — at the beginning of April. 

March alone brought 150% of normal snow water equivalent, and 156% of normal precipitation. 

That brings the water year, which is defined as the 12-month period from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, to about 117% above normal. Across the state, the snowpack appears to have reached a peak of 18.8 inches in early April. 

“The timing and magnitude of our snowpack peak plays a crucial role in our water management strategies,” said Candice Hasenyager, director of the Division of Water Resources, in a statement. “We have all this snow still in the mountains, and we need to pay attention to how it melts.”

Reservoirs around the state are currently averaging about 20% above normal capacity for this time of year, with many reservoirs releasing water to make way for spring runoff. Deer Creek reservoir is currently at 96% capacity, with Strawberry at 92%, Echo at 85% and Jordanelle at 81%. 

That’s a stark contrast to last year, when the statewide reservoir capacity was around 50%. 

“Spring runoff is really where the magic happens for water supply,” Hasenyager said. “Knowing how much water to release and estimating how much water will make its way into the reservoir requires continual monitoring.”

State data also points to 60% of Utah’s streams flowing at normal to above-normal levels. That water is giving a needed boost to the Great Salt Lake, which hit a historic low of 4,191.3 feet in 2021. The division on Thursday reported a 2.5 foot rise in levels since October, bringing the elevation of the lake’s south arm up to 4,194.5 feet as of Friday. 

Most of Utah’s water supply — an estimated 95% — comes from the snowpack. Spring runoff will continue to result in above-average, sometimes dangerous, flows near streams and rivers. The state is urging residents to be cautious, with the high volume resulting in “treacherous” conditions, especially for children and pets. 

“Rising temperatures, while beneficial for spring runoff, require careful monitoring. A balance must be maintained to avoid both flooding from rapid melting and inadequate water replenishment from slow melting,” reads a press release from the Division of Water Resources.