Big snowpack, warm weather brings spring runoff

Photo by Hydromet, iStock, Getty Images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – As the temperatures warm up and snow in the mountains melts, reservoirs are filling up and the threat of flooding is low – so far.

Snow water equivalent as of March 14, 2017, courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, St. George News

“This warm weather’s brought the river up, but not to flood stages,” Washington County Water Conservancy District Manager Ron Thompson said.

So far, the rate of runoff has been ideal, with low-level snow already melted and snow in the higher elevations melting at a reasonable rate.

Area reservoirs are already close to full, with Gunlock at 80 percent of capacity, Quail Creek at 84 percent, Sand Hollow at 91 percent and Kolob Reservoir at about 83 percent, Thompson said.

With the peak runoff not expected until the last week of April, all four reservoirs are expected to fill up.

“I think drought-wise, we may be, at least for this year, out of the major drought index,” Thompson said. “But I don’t know if you get out of a drought in one year; we’ll just have to see what happens next year.”

Even with a heavy water year, conservation is still encouraged, Thompson said.

“We should never waste water,  and that’s the ethic we’re trying to establish here,” Thompson said.

Right now in Washington County, both landscapes and farms only need to be watered once a week; by April the need will rise to twice a week.

Flood risk?

So is there a risk of flooding from snow runoff?

“Gradually warming temperatures and a slow melt-off is the best scenario,” Washington County Emergency Services Director Pete Kuhlman said in a statement.

“Where you get a risk this time of year is if you have a lot of that low-level snow and then it stays cold – and then it warms up and you get a little rain on it and it can cause an enormous flood,” Thompson said. 

While the main Santa Clara and Virgin rivers are not at flood stage, high water has caused the closure of the Narrows and all trails and routes that exit through the Narrows in Zion National Park.

Read more: News short: Zion Narrows closed due to high flowing Virgin River

If conditions change, residents who live along the Virgin River and Santa Clara River drainages could be impacted by potential flooding from snow melt, Kuhlman said.

There are heavy snowpacks on the peaks of the mountains in the Pine Valley and Kolob Mountain areas, Kuhlman said, and recent warm temperatures should result in snow melt which should lessen the threat of flooding over time.

“We do not anticipate any substantial problems unless we see a warm rain event on the snow pack. Those living in the drainage areas of these two mountains should monitor the weather and be prepared to take protective actions should a wet weather pattern develop,” Kuhlman said. 

As with any potential emergency event, residents should have an emergency plan, an emergency kit and stay up to date on current conditions.

Read more: FEMA: Be prepared for threat of spring flooding

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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