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After a third month of dry, hot weather, Utah's reservoirs are running low which portends a parched 2017 unless this winter is a white one.
Statewide, reservoirs are averaging 47 percent of capacity as a result of an ill-timed dry spell, according to the monthly Utah Climate and Water Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some, said Randy Julander, supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Utah Snow Survey, have already run dry.
And though there is still one month left in the irrigation season, it's next year's water supply that will most keenly feel the effect, Julander said.
Farmers will use what water storage remains and then wrap up their operations for the year.
But as reservoirs continue to drop in the coming month as is projected the loss of storage will cut into next year's water supply.
"What most water managers would like to do is go into the snow-accumulation season about half full that gives them a cushion for next year," Julander said. "Obviously we're not going to make that."
Reservoirs that enter the water year, which begins Oct. 1, without adequate water from the previous year may not fill entirely before the following summer unless Utah gets an above-average snowpack that winter, Julander said.
Utah hasn't seen above-average snowfall since 2011, he said. So far the jury is still out at the National Weather Service on whether the coming months will be dry or wet, but the group has predicted above-average temperatures for the next three months.
In terms of precipitation, Julander said, the state is still doing better this year than in 2014 and 2015.
But reservoir storage is not holding up as well last year at this time, Utah reservoirs were averaging 51 percent of capacity, according to the water report.
Julander said the difference can be attributed to the timing of this year's precipitation.
Utah accumulated little snow in 2014 and 2015, but made it through the summer, thanks to a pattern of cool, abnormally wet weather.
This year's winter was better for mountain snowpack, but exceptionally dry and hot weather in June, July and August increased demand for irrigation water and taxed local reservoirs.
Utah's soils also currently contain considerably less moisture than usual, Julander said, which will make filling reservoirs next spring even more difficult. Soils must be saturated before runoff can begin.
"There's a couple of big holes to fill," he said. "We need lots of snow."
Northern Utah was particularly hard hit. According to the recent water report, August precipitation ranged from 20 to 60 percent of normal in northern drainage basins.
On Thursday, conditions in the Uinta Mountains prompted the U.S. Drought Monitor to reclassify drought conditions in part of Utah County as severe.
About 17 percent of the state is currently experiencing drought conditions, according to the monitor.
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