Water district managers in southern Utah brace for dry year, possibility of ‘megadrought’

Posted at 10:22 PM, Feb 18, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah - Water district managers in Southern Utah bracing themselves for another dry year. It’s a dangerous pattern that lends to the prediction of a "megadrought" on the horizon.

John Wadsworth has been farming in Washington County for more than 45 years, and he said there’s rarely been a time he’s seen a year start out as dry as this.

“It’s frightening,” Wadsworth said. “Sometimes in March and April we get some good storms, but it’s so late it won’t catch us up.”

Water district managers report levels on the Virgin River at below 25 percent of normal, and most reservoirs only slightly higher than they were last year. Add to that a little snow pack to feed those reserves, and the current outlook is bleak.

“It’s always troubling because normally we would be in a fill pattern in our reservoirs for another 70 to 80 days,” said Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Ron Thompson. “Likely we’ll be through filling here in the next few days.”

It’s a pattern that has NASA scientists predicting a megadrought by the year 2050. A recent study blames global warming for a trend that could prolong dry conditions in the southwest United States, creating an effect similar to the 1930s Dust Bowl drought.

“We’re significantly less in many areas,” Thompson said. “We’re the worst here in southwest Utah, but it’s still a little premature to say.”

Thompson said the study is a theory, but one that’s quite possible given the last few years of drought we’ve seen so far. But he said we would be in a better place than some others if something like that were to happen.

“We have wells, and access to deep water aquifers, and ground water recharge,” Thompson said.

Wadsworth says drier conditions are changing the way he farms, including cutting back on certain planting and refocusing efforts. He said while the prospect of a megadrought is scary; he’s just taking it one year at a time.

For more information on the NASA study, click here.