ST. GEORGE — If you’re thinking of visiting Gunlock Reservoir for its waterfalls this year, consider a change of plans.
For the last two years, the waterfalls that spilled out of Gunlock Reservoir flowed due to the high levels of melting snowpack present in the mountains at the time. This year, due to low snowpack, water levels at Gunlock aren’t rising to the occasion as they have in previous years.
Around this time in 2019 and 2020, southwest Utah saw snowpacks of 190% and 120% of average respectively. As of April 12, 2021, the snowpack is at 32% of average, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.
The previous years’ high snowpack filled Gunlock and the county’s other reservoirs to capacity or close to it. In Gunlock’s case, this allowed excess water to spill over the reservoir’s southern end and down into the Santa Clara River.
“It’s a rare and beautiful occurrence to see the falls at Gunlock Reservoir,” Karry Rathje, of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said in an email Monday. “The falls are created when the reservoir is full and spilling. Unfortunately, the reservoir is only about half full today and it’s unlikely the reservoir will fill this year given the lack of precipitation. We’re entering this season with lower reservoir levels throughout the county.”
The Utah Division of Natural Resources also noted over Twitter that there would be no waterfalls at Gunlock this year.
Will the waterfalls at Gunlock State Park near St. George flow this spring? No! We don’t expect to see the falls this year due to low water levels and below normal snowpack in nearby mountains. pic.twitter.com/wCut9CNzqD
— Utah DNR (@UtahDNR) April 12, 2021
The increasing severity of the drought is a grave concern for county and state officials. Due to the lack of snowpack from this winter, Gov. Spencer Cox issued a state of emergency declaration in mid-March which will allow communities, farmers and others in drought-ravaged counties to apply for federal aid during what is anticipated to be another bone-dry year.
The 2020-21 winter season wasn’t as wet as hoped, and 2020 overall was counted as Utah’s driest year on record.
The waterfalls at Gunlock are a popular attraction when they are flowing and drew large crowds in 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately, the massive influx of visitors and repeated accidents at the falls prompted the water district to lower water levels at the reservoir in May 2020 so the falls would cease to flow. This was done at the request of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.
Though the reservoirs are a popular place to visit – Gunlock, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek are state parks after all – their original function is to serve as water storage for Washington County.
“While our reservoirs offer countless recreational opportunities, it’s important to remember that their primary purpose is to store our water,” Rathje said. “Lower reservoir levels means we have less supply to meet our growing water demands. We encourage everyone to use water efficiently to preserve our local supplies.”
According to the water district’s website, Gunlock Reservoir is 58% full. The county’s two other major reservoirs, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek, are currently at 92% and 72% full respectively. Kolob Reservoir is currently at 53%.
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