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Extreme drought continues to take toll on Utah waterways

Posted at 10:41 AM, Jul 15, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — This is how extreme the current drought conditions are in Utah; with three months of the state's irrigation season remaining, reservoir levels are lower now than there were at the end of the 2020 season last October.

“We are no longer pulling water stored from this year’s runoff. Instead, we’re relying on water that has been stored in our reservoirs during previous years. We’re pulling water from our emergency savings,” said Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Executive Director Brian Steed.

“No one knows how long this drought will last, so it’s vital that we avoid using our stored water too quickly. Failing to save water now could lead to far more difficult circumstances later.”

Droughts are considered a “creeping disaster” because the exact onset and end often can’t be identified until long after the event has come and gone. Persistent high temperatures and low winter snowpack make the situation worse.

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Listed below is a summary of information from DNR's Divisions of Water Resources and Water Rights for the week of July 12 that gives current conditions for Utah's various lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, which are as follows:

  • Reservoir storage statewide continues to drop and now averages 58% (down from 59% last week). Twenty-six of Utah’s largest 42 reservoirs remain below 55% of available capacity.
  • Deer Creek, Jordanelle, Pineview, Rockport, Sand Hollow, Strawberry and Willard Bay all currently have storage levels below where they were at the end of 2020 irrigation season.
  • Stream flows statewide continue to decline, with 77 of the 98 measured streams flowing below normal, up from 65 last week. Daily flow from 28 head water streams is currently flowing below the previous minimum daily flow record.
  • The natural flow and percent of direct flow water rights on the portions of the river systems continue to decrease, with earlier than normal curtailment.
  • The elevation of the Great Salt Lake continues to hover between 2.5 to 3 inches from its historic low recorded in 1963. (The Division of Water Resources uses the daily averages rather than the instantaneous readings recorded every 15-minutes.)

For the complete drought update for the week of July 12, click here.