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Utah drought report brings worrisome numbers, record lows across state

Utah Stream.jpg
Posted at 3:27 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:20:12-04

SALT LAKE CITY — In a weekly drought update Thursday, the Utah Department of Natural Resources reported what experts are seeing in terms of drought conditions, water storage, stream flows and the allocation of water rights across the state.

Record high temperatures in June and dry conditions during spring months continued to elevate drought conditions around the state. Officials report recent temperatures have been 9.4 degrees above average and soils are 12% drier than normal.

Read - Drought conditions may lead to longer wildfire response times

As of June 21, soil moisture is at 42.2% saturation, compared to an average of 54.7% saturation.

Because soils are absorbing much of the snowpack runoff, streams are flowing at less than 50% and even less water is getting to reservoirs. Utah DNR reported 14 streams statewide are flowing at their lowest levels ever recorded.

Major reservoirs in Utah are currently at 63% of available capacity, with half of the state's 42 reservoirs below 55% of available capacity.

Lake Powell, Rockport and Steinaker, which are Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs and below any previous storage and elevation levels in the last 30 years. The Great Salt Lake is only about five inches from its historic low level in 1963.

Read - Drought affecting recreation opportunities at Utah's reservoirs

The map below shows reservoir capacity at sites around Utah. Woodruff Narrows reservoir, which is near the Wyoming-Utah border has the lowest capacity at 13%. Deer Creek reservoir in Wasatch County is the most filled in Utah at 94%.

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With the severe drought, not all direct flow water rights are being fulfilled. Water rights are distributed by the state engineer with priority going to the earliest rights. Earliest water rights are called "direct flow," which means the water cannot be stored.

Some water rights are held by public water suppliers while others are held by individuals. Priority distribution happens every year, however this year not all rights are being met due to limited supply in rivers.

Read - ‘We don’t waste a drop of water’: Utah farmers, ranchers try to survive drought

The state engineer also oversees the construction of groundwater wells. So far there have been 72 replacement and deepening requests for wells made statewide. The average annual count over the past five years is 107 requests.

Click here to read the full report from the Utah Department of Natural Resources.