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How snowpack levels will impact Utah's historic drought

Posted at 10:04 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 00:04:54-05

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah — There’s a lot at stake with these winter storms, hydrologists, farmers, and more are depending on how much the snowpack impacts groundwater and soil moisture.

Up along the foothills, overlooking Davis County, are where some of Utah’s “recharge” areas are found.

READ: Most of Utah remains under extreme drought despite recent snowfall

Scott Paxman, assistant general manager for the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said the snowpack in these areas is critical.

“There’s a lot of gravel material and a lot of sand, that’s the interface we see for the surface water and the deep aquifers,” said Paxman.

It’s the deep aquifers, or underground reservoirs of sorts, that had water conservationists like Paxman nervous this past year.

“We hadn’t seen this type of drought in 75 to 100 years, so it’s nothing we would have expected and I’m hoping we don’t get another one in a row,” said Paxman.

The drought caused deep aquifers to run dry, meaning when our reservoirs above ground had short supplies, there was no backup under the ground.

READ: Report warns of long-term drought, air quality issues

It’s why the latest string of snowstorms has been encouraging.

“We want those to be recharged as well so all of that will help as far as the long run for soil moisture and snowpack,” said Paxman.

Current snowpack levels in the valley are at 89 percent, which is good, but Paxman said the levels should be closer to 150 percent. Reservoir levels are also low, at 35 percent of normal, when they should be at 50 percent of normal.

Levels Paxman believes will take a long time to build up to.

“It usually takes one to two years of really good water runoff to get those aquifers back up to where they were a couple of years ago,” said Paxman.

The snow along the valley floor is good for the Great Salt Lake, but for replenishing Utah’s water supply, Paxman said we need to set our sights higher to the snowpack in the Uintas and Park City.

“It’s the lifeblood of the country and the lifeblood of Utah,” said Paxman.