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More snow needed to alleviate winter drought

snowy mountain slopes in Utah
Snowpack in the mountains is an important source of water.

In the mountains of Utah, where winter storms are necessary to replenish water in reservoirs, continuing drought is a significant concern. Laura Haskell, Drought Coordinator with the Utah Division of Water Resources, said last month’s snowstorm brought limited relief.

“Any snow we get is going to help the drought situation. … With snow, it sort of just sits there – hopefully, unless we have a really hot spell, it'll just stay in the snowpack and sort of save that water for us. And that's why snow is so critical,” Haskell said.

Still, Haskell said, we only have about 56% of the snowpack expected at the year’s peak, which is usually around the first of April.

“An above-average snowpack for the year would be ideal. An average snowpack would be better than we saw last year, and it will put some water back in our streams and reservoirs. If we have a below-average snowpack this year, we could see increased water restrictions this summer, and we also see could see an increased impact to the natural environment and wildlife,” Haskell said.

Joan Meiners, an ecologist and environment reporter at The Spectrum & Daily News in St. George, says the lack of precipitation is an indication of long-term trends.

“This drought, these low reservoir levels, are not something that's going to be fixed with one big snowstorm or even one heavy snow year,” Meiners said.

Warm spring temperatures could also deplete the snowpack prematurely, Meiners said.

“If the snow melts sooner, that can be a problem, because our storage systems aren't necessarily designed to intake all of that spring runoff all at once.”

The effects of winter drought will have serious consequences for water use.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.