SALT LAKE CITY — River levels across the state are well below normal for this time of year, with some setting record minimums on this calendar day.
As we head into runoff season, experts say the outlook is a bit better than last year, but still worrisome.
“95 percent of the water in Utah comes from snow. A lot of that is stored in our reservoir system year after year," said Jordan Clayton, a specialist with the USDA Snow Survey. "Our reservoir has been hurt by the bad drought. We’re currently at about half full — everyone should be concerned about that."
On Monday, a real-time map showed that river levels in many areas across the state hit a record low for the date of March 21.
But those levels should change soon as the seasons change, and the snow starts to melt.
“This year, we have a lot more variety in what’s projected," said Laura Haskell with the Utah Division of Water Resources. "There are a couple of areas that are expected to be close to average for their runoff."
The peak snowpack is just days away, around April 1.
Experts expect it to be roughly what it is right now, around 88 percent of normal for this time of year.
That’s almost identical to last year’s snowpack, but this year, our precipitation and soil moisture is looking better.
“Last year, we were feeling the ongoing effects of a precipitation deficit that led to record minimum soil moisture levels in our headwater areas," Clayton said. "This year, at least we’re not seeing that; Our soil moisture levels are above normal this time of year."
The best way to get the snow in the mountain delivered into the reservoirs is to have it all melt in a short period of time.
“If you keep all the snow stored on the mountain and then you melt it quickly, your ground is saturated so there’s nowhere else for it to go but downstream which is where we want to store it,” said Clayton.
The number one thing we need is for mother nature to deliver. Clayton says we’d need about two huge snowpack years for us to catch up from a reservoir perspective.
Both experts agree: this year’s runoff forecast is slightly more optimistic than last year, but will still have challenges.
“It’s a little bit hard to say," Haskell said. "Because our reservoirs are starting off lower, there are some areas that are really going to be struggling because their storage is down or gone.”
This could mean severe restrictions on outdoor watering and if needed, on indoor use.
“You really need to listen to your local water provider," Haskell said. "They know what their situation is, they know if they’re in an area that’s struggling more or not, and they know what needs to be done to keep that critical water going."
Outdoor watering restrictions are expected this summer in the Weber Water Conservancy District, including shortening the season.
There are ways you can get involved to conserve water and even save on money in the process.
Haskell recommends looking into low-flow toilets and localscapes as an alternative landscaping that uses less water.
For more details on ways to save on water inside and outside, visit slowtheflow.org.