July Rains Did Not End the Drought

You may have heard that Utah received higher-than-average rainfall in July, with totals ranging from 130 percent of average in the north to 219 percent in the south, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey. So does that mean the current drought is over?

Unfortunately, no. The Deseret News on August 10 quoted Ron Thompson, manager of the Washington County Conservancy District, as saying “It was very helpful for the watershed as a whole. For plant growth, livestock operators and the watershed, they dearly needed it, and it was all beneficial.” However, he said that the intense nature of some of the heavy rains caused problems. “Anytime you get 2-plus inches in a couple of hours, it rarely does you any good,” Thompson said.

So, how does the water picture look for the state? Let’s look at it from several points of view:

Soil moisture. The report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service said that the above-average rainfall actually did little to improve Utah’s abysmal soil moisture levels. “Even though July precipitation was much above average, soil moisture is exceptionally dry, at the bottom of historically observed August 1 values across the entire state,” the report said. In fact it says soil moisture across the state is at “zero percent.”

  • Reservoir storage. The July rains did nothing to replenish the state’s shrinking reservoirs. In fact, water use during the hot summer has shrunk them even further. Capacity statewide is at 59 percent, or 12 percent less than last year.
  • Precipitation. During this water year (which runs from October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013), precipitation in the Provo-Utah-Jordan area (which includes Salt Lake City and Draper) is only 79% of normal. In fact, most of the state is below 85% of normal in terms of precipitation.

“Water shortages and restrictions are being implemented statewide,” the report noted. While restrictions have not yet been put in place in Draper, that may be a possibility if the drought continues into next year