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Utah officials not ready to declare end to drought

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Water officials are not quite ready to declare an end to the drought in Utah, even though the state has its deepest snowpack in years.

This year’s statewide snowpack ranks substantially better than 2017, and almost as good as the banner years of 2005 and 2011, federal hydrologists said in a water report made public Thursday.

The water stored in the snowpacks of San Juan, Grand and eastern Uintah counties was 207% above normal as of Thursday, and was 191% above normal for southwestern Utah, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But Utah Climate Center research climatologist Jon Meyer said he is waiting for information on spring runoff before deciding whether to crown 2018-19 as the perfect water year, according to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Soil moisture levels are down in some areas, which could make for less efficient runoff, according to Troy Brosten, the Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist who supervises the water supply outlook reports. This is because it would take more water to saturate soil before it can run into streams.

And if the snowpack melts rapidly, as it did in 1983, streams could overflow their banks and that water might not reach reservoirs, warned Rachel Shilton, section manager for river basin planning for the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Utah water experts like Shilton are not ready to declare an end to the drought, although they remain “cautiously optimistic.”

“There is talk about that, but when we talk with the farmers, the boots on the ground, they are pretty cautious,” Shilton said.

She added: “One good year doesn’t mean rejuvenation of their fields and livestock. I don’t want to promote that because I want them to still be conscientious about their water use.”