ST. GEORGE — In mid-January, the snowpack in Utah’s southwest region was around 55% of normal. But thanks to a series of storms across Southern Utah in the month since then, the snowpack is now over 100%.

Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, talks about the county’s water outlook following a recent storm, St. George, Utah, Feb. 21, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“It’s been significant,” Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told St. George News on Wednesday afternoon. “These storms have hit beautifully, came in and dropped some really good snowfall all over the county. From Enterprise all the way over to Zion National Park, they’ve been significant, and it’s really going to help us this summer.”

There were concerns at the start of the year that Washington County may be facing “a very dry year” if nothing changed. During a Jan. 11 address about water’s impact on the local economy at the “What’s Up Down South” Economic Summit, Renstrom noted that at that time last year, snowpack was 200% of normal due to the year’s record-breaking snowfall.

On the day he spoke at the summit, however, the snowpack was at 53%. As of Thursday, the snowpack in southwest Utah was sitting at 114% of normal, with the rest of the state ranging from 106% to 123% of normal.

“Above-normal snowpack is a significant win for our state as a whole, especially with our rocky start,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the Division of Water Resources, said in a recent press release. “It positions us well for the coming months and emphasizes the positive impact of recent weather patterns.”

A snow-covered part of the Pine Valley Mountains as seen from Brigham Drive, St. George, Utah, Feb. 22, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

While the high snowpack can set an optimistic tone for the coming year, Renstrom said he is planning for the best and worst-case scenarios given how unpredictable weather can be from day to day.

“I’m planning for a massive drought and a massive flood because I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “So we prepare for the two extremes.”

In the meantime, the water district aims to take advantage of every drop of water it can while also hoping for a few more good storms and a snow melt when spring hits.

“That would be ideal,” Renstrom said.

Statewide reservoirs are currently at 82%, marking a stark contrast to a year ago when reservoirs were less than 50% full.

“This reinforces the importance of our water storage infrastructure,” state water managers said in the press release issued by the Utah Division of Water Resources that echoed Renstrom’s sentiments about uncertainty. “Continued conservation ensures reservoirs have an adequate water supply during times of drought. As one of the driest states in the nation, we never know what each year will bring.”

Water levels are high this year at Quail Creek Reservoir thanks to last winter’s heavy snowpack and a wet monsoon season in southwest Utah over the last year, Quail Creek State Park, Utah, Oct. 5, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

According to the Washington County Water Conservancy District’s website, the primary reservoirs it manages range between 74% and 105% of capacity, averaging 84% for all reservoirs overall.

“Even though we have these good snowpacks, we know it’s only a matter of time before we go into another drought,” Renstrom said. “So I always encourage people to be … water-wise and think about their water use.”

To encourage water conservation among Utahns, the Utah Department of Natural Resources continues to promote initiatives such as the Agricultural Optimization Program for farmers and for residents. These programs aim to educate and incentivize water-saving practices, ensuring Utahns become more drought-resilient and prepare for future conditions.

In Washington County, the water district continues to promote its lawn replacement rebate program that pays out $2 per every square foot of turf that is replaced with water-wise landscaping. That program can be found at this link.

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