Few storms leave southwest Utah in drought

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - Officials in southwestern Utah say a lack of storms this winter has depleted the snowpack and primed the area for parched conditions as it enters the third straight year of drought.

John Wadsworth, a farmer in Hurricane Valley, said his alfalfa and grain fields and peach orchard are suffering.

“This is probably the very worst drought I’ve seen,” Wadsworth told The Spectrum of St. George (http://bit.ly/1d9gkZ2).

If the region receives any late-summer monsoon rains, that might help, he said.

But with spring approaching, Wadsworth is predicting a gross drop in sales of about 25 percent.

Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said farmers and ranchers like Wadsworth will feel the worst of the drought this year.

Despite the low levels, Thompson doesn’t predict this year’s drought will lead to any major rationing or restrictions. As of Tuesday, the area’s two largest reservoirs were filled more than 70 percent, and additional water stored underground can be used, he said.

But with little runoff from a depleted winter snowpack, Thompson said it will be tougher to replenish that supply as it’s tapped this year.

“This year’s clearly going to be down on the bottom 25 percent of all years, and probably the bottom 10 percent,” he said.

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said high-pressure systems have thwarted winter storms in southwestern Utah for several years.

There’s still an opportunity for cooler, moist weather to alleviate that this spring, he said.

Otherwise, the region is set for hotter and drier conditions.

Thompson and other water managers gathering in St. George for the annual Utah Water Users Workshop last week discussed the issue.

The region, which is growing rapidly, will have to address drought and water-supply issues as the population continues to increase, water managers said.

There are about 144,000 people in southwestern Utah’s Washington County, but officials estimate that will grow to more than 370,000 by 2040.

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