Utah Drought Worries Farmers, Ranchers, Water Managers

Feb 26, 2021, 6:39 PM | Updated: 7:32 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Even though recent storms covered Utah’s mountains with snow, the state is still in a drought and conservationists have already warned about reduced water use in the spring and summer.

Water engineers told KSL there is, at best, a 15% chance of getting to the average snowpack this year. An even bigger concern is how dry the ground is right now.

Nobody ever said ranching was easy, at least nobody who has ever tried it. 

This year, though, Mother Nature made it even more difficult. 

“It’s tough. The drought has been very challenging,” said Brian Johnson. “It’s kind of the long game you’ve got to play, and you have to be prepared.” 

Johnson is a 6th generation cattle rancher in Tooele County. He owns Johnson Land and Livestock in Rush Valley and knows firsthand how tough drought conditions are. 

“We’re used to dry conditions. We do live in the desert but, as it gets drier and drier over the past few years, it starts taking a toll on us,” said Johnson. 

This year may end up being the driest year yet. 

“It’s scary. The soil is the driest we’ve seen it in all the years we’ve been monitoring it,” said Laura Haskell, who is Utah’s drought coordinator and a water engineer with Utah’s Division of Water Resources. 

Even with the big snowstorm last week, drought is still a big concern. 

Haskell said Utah would need roughly another 50 to 60 inches of snow just to get to average. 

Reservoirs across the state are only about 65% full. Last year at this time, they were at about 85%. 

Haskell said it is unlikely reservoirs will get to 100% this year. 

“Probably not,” she said. “The chances are only maybe 10% to 15% of average snowpack, and then again, that soil is going to soak it up, so the chances of an average streamflow runoff into our reservoirs is really, really low.” 

According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, all of Utah is in moderate drought, with 90% of the state experiencing extreme drought or worse. 

Haskell said water conservation this year when it comes to lawns and gardens is going to be as important as ever. 

“We have a large population. We’re growing and using water,” she said. “I think if people understood the situation and what they need to do, they’ll do it.” 

Farmers sure understand. 

Johnson said he had to buy outside feed and hay for his cattle last year, and he’ll probably have to do it again this year since soil conditions at his ranch will prevent him from growing what he normally needs. 

“Our crop production is way down. Last year, we saw about a 50% decrease in production,” said Johnson. 

Johnson and ranchers across Utah, are just trying to get through it. 

More snow and rain would help. 

“We’re in dire conditions,” he said. “It’s kind of a way of life. You kind of do what you got to do.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Utah's Environment

Rain moves across Salt Lake City on Sept. 21. Salt Lake City entered Friday, the last day of the wa...
Carter Williams, KSL.com

As the 2022 water year comes to a close, how did Utah fare?

Laura Haskell with the Utah Division of Water Resources finds it difficult to describe the 2022 water year because it has been all over the place.
2 months ago
The Shorelines Preserve at the Great Salt Lake (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson

Using stormwater to create wetlands at the Great Salt Lake

The Nature Conservancy will soon be using stormwater to create new wetlands off the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
3 months ago
Bear River Massacre site. (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson

Restoration of Idaho’s Bear River Massacre site may benefit Great Salt Lake

Current efforts to restore the site of the Bear River Massacre could benefit the whole Wasatch Front in a big way.
3 months ago
Smoky skies in Utah on September 9, 2022....
Jed Boal

Smoky skies could be persistent problem in Utah this fall

Most of Utah hasn't had a lot of bad air quality from wildfire smoke this summer, especially compared to last year. But wildfires to the north and west of Utah are now pumping in a lot of smoke. Unfortunately, we could be in for several smoky periods over the next few weeks.
3 months ago
Dan Spindle

Biologist says Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is near collapse

A biology professor said the Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is dangerously close to collapsing, creating a risk for all of Utah.
3 months ago
(KSL TV)...
Sean Higgins, KUER 90.1

Critics say the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act pushes more study when action is what’s needed

SALT LAKE CITY — State leaders are optimistic federal legislation that could provide millions in funding to help the shrinking Great Salt Lake will have traction in Washington, but some water advocates in Utah are still not satisfied. The Great Salt Lake Recovery Act was introduced by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. Burgess Owens and Chris […]
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Utah Drought Worries Farmers, Ranchers, Water Managers