Utah’s Snowpack and the Outlook for Great Salt Lake
At this time last year, Utah’s snow pack was sitting at around 160% of normal. We were skiing knee deep powder on the weekends and expecting longer commutes to work or school during the week. While another record-breaking snow year would be a gift for Utah and the Great Salt Lake, that simply won’t be the case this year.
As it stands, the statewide average is approximately 69% of normal, and every basin in the state remains below the historic mean. However, there are some patterns and future projections that can bring a bit of hope to concerned residents in the Great Salt Lake Basin. Notably, the Bear River Drainage, the Lake’s primary tributary, has received 5.9 inches of snow water equivalent, which makes it the most of any drainage in the state. In general, Northern Utah remains closer to average, while Southern Utah has taken the biggest hit.
The overall decrease in precipitation can be attributed to a mild start to winter and a lingering high-pressure system that has prevented significant snow throughout the state. It seems, this pattern has begun to change.
Utah residents welcomed significant snowfall this week and storms should continue to bring snow over the next two weeks. The National Weather Service predicts Utah will likely receive above average precipitation over the second half of the winter, which could help get our snowpack closer to average across the state.
“The odds are starting to favor we get into a more active weather pattern through the second half of the winter,” National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Webber told KSL-TV.
Regardless of whether or not we receive more snow than usual in 2024, one thing remains clear: we must use water wisely. We will have less available water than last year to shepard to Great Salt Lake, and farmers will likely be more hesitant to lease water rights. Unless significant changes are made, the Lake will likely recede and could reach record lows next Fall. Great Salt Lake will need every drop of water it can get this year, so it is vital we work alongside these stakeholders to meet the demands of agriculture and the Lake alike.
The state should prioritize a system that benefits all Utah residents and simultaneously maintains healthy, abundant ecosystems. Last year’s snowfall was an anomaly. This year’s projected totals are a reminder we cannot take winters of abundance for granted. If we hope to restore the Lake and maintain the lifestyle Utahns have become accustomed to, the state needs to be ready to act and allocate water in response to any given winter’s snow.
As we move forward, Utah must remain prepared to manage water resources regardless of the snowpack, and plans should be implemented to guide decision making in wet years, drought years, and “normal” years like we are experiencing this winter. Without guidelines to steer decision making, Utah risks mismanaging our most precious resource and puts individuals, farmers, and Great Salt Lake under the unnecessary stress of an inefficient system.