Low levels at Utah reservoirs hurting agriculture, recreation

Posted at 8:22 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 23:24:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY --With weeks of warm, dry weather and no big August rain storms to bail us out, reservoirs across the state are taking a hit and seeing a huge drop in water levels.

There are 48 reservoirs in Utah, and most are seeing extremely low water levels; at least 12 are empty or close to it.

“There's a lot of these larger reservoirs that are down quite a bit from where they were, and in many cases either empty of close to that,” said Randy Julander, a Snow Survey Supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service with the US Department of Agriculture.

Utah Lake is extremely low for this time of year. Piute, Gunnison and Severe Bridge reservoirs are already empty.

Friday's drought monitor shows a map of the state nearly covered in yellow, a color that indicates the areas with abnormally dry conditions. The spots of dark orange in northern Utah mean severe drought.

This hits the agricultural industry, which makes up 14 percent of the state's economy, hardest

“What farmers will have to do is either change crops, plant fewer crops, or irrigate less," Julander said.

Folks looking for recreation are getting the thirst as well.

“They have to go so far to back down the boat ramp, or if the boat ramp is even touching down into the water anymore,” Julander said.

For now, there's no restrictions for culinary water use. Water managers say Weber and Davis counties would likely be the first to see restrictions on watering lawns.

Experts expect levels to continue to drop, cutting into next season’s water supply. The state is hoping for a good snowfall come winter.

"Going forward into the winter months, what that means is we have to replace all the moisture before we start generating runoff, and then we have to replace all of the empty reservoirs,” Julander said.

Winter snowfall has been below average for the past five years. On a positive note, reservoirs are still doing better this year than they were in 2014-15.