The majority of our watersheds will be rising over the next few weeks as the record snowpack melts from higher elevations. As of 5/17/23, We’re about halfway through this runoff marathon. Peak flows are expected from the last week in May through the second week in June. The sheer volume of water we are expecting through July is anywhere from 200-300% of normal, so we will have a prolonged period of high flows in our rivers and creeks. Stay away from river and stream banks until the runoff subsides.
Record snowpack across the state has increased the potential for flooding, landslides and debris flows in some areas. Snowpack peaked at 30 inches of snow water equivalent this year versus 12 inches last year (15.8 inches is the statewide average peak). Much of the low- to mid-elevation snow has melted. However, high-elevation snow is just starting to melt. Even after the high-elevation drainages peak sometime in June, high flows are expected well into July.
We are in uncharted territory and have never seen this much snow since snowpack measuring began. The good news is that with the exception of the very largest lakes and reservoirs like Strawberry, Great Salt Lake and Lake Powell, our reservoirs are expected to fill! (Note: Year-to-year reservoir level comparisons are not an accurate metric currently because of the water releases taking place to make room for runoff.)
The bad news is that with all this amazing snow comes increased flooding. Water managers around the state are monitoring conditions carefully and releasing water to make room for runoff. State, federal, county and local agencies are also working together to prepare for and respond to flooding. However, flooding is unpredictable and heavily influenced by weather, including temperature and additional precipitation.
Things to Know
- The Department of Natural Resources coordinates with state, federal, county and local agencies to proactively plan for potential flooding and to respond if flooding occurs.
- Rivers and streams are running fast, high and cold. Stay away from river and stream banks until runoff subsides.
- Conditions may impact Utah State Parks and other recreation areas, including campgrounds and trails.
- The Utah Geological Survey is monitoring areas with saturated soils that can cause unstable conditions like landslides, rockslides, slumps, and erosion that may create hazards.
- Water Right’s Dam Safety section has been taking steps to ensure the integrity of dams and allow for the safe filling of reservoirs. This includes monitoring inflow to reservoirs and working with dam owners to release appropriate amounts of water to ensure the safety of individuals and properties downstream from the dam, the stream bed’s well-being, and the dam’s safe operation.
- Through funding and support for various projects, Water Resources and Water Rights have helped to reduce the risk of flooding and helped protect communities from the devastating effects of these natural disasters. (Projects include many dam safety upgrades, Thistle slide work and ongoing tunnel inspections, Green River diversion structure replacement and more.)
- Water Right’s Stream Alteration section has been reminding those who maintain water courses to keep them free from debris to allow for efficient water flow. Any debris removal that requires heavy equipment within a stream bed requires a stream alteration permit.
Differences Between 2023 and 1983
- In 1983, runoff didn’t start until May 20 (statewide average). Temperatures spiked, and flooding resulted.
- Temperatures in the spring of 1983 were generally below average until late May. There were only three days above 70 degrees before May 20.
- 1982 had also been a record-wet year, saturating the ground and also filling reservoirs.
- Significant infrastructure investment has occurred throughout the state to help manage flood waters, including the construction of new reservoirs, dam safety upgrades, and improving detention basins, culverts and piped systems to allow better conveyance of spring runoff and storm events.
- Monitor spring runoff – view video footage from river monitoring cams that have been placed in remote areas
- Colorado Basin River Forecasting Center – Statewide flood forecasting
- Division of Emergency Management – Statewide emergency preparedness and emergency response information
- Flood hazard information – Flood information for community members
- Current Conditions – Current weather conditions from the National Weather Service
- 1-6 day flood forecast – Advanced hydrologic predictions from the National Weather Service
- Floodplain map and risk assessment tool maps that indicate which areas could be most impacted by flooding (maps are managed by local agencies and best know conditions in their areas)
- Bureau of Reclamation’s Snow to Flow Forecaster