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Researchers use technology to monitor snowmelt

March 22nd, 2015 Posted in Opinion

By Shelby Ruud
Water Research at USU

With snowpack levels below normal this winter, Utah State University researchers are paying closer attention to snowpack and snowmelt data provided by a research site located in the T.W. Daniel Experimental Forest.

Snowmelt provides about 80 percent of Utah’s water supply and the spring runoff season is expected to start in early April. The site’s monitoring of the limited snowmelt is crucial for allocating water in Cache Valley, according to Scott Jones, a professor of environmental soil physics at USU.

The site, located about 20 miles northeast of Logan, encompasses 12 towers that are used to monitor weather, soil, snow and water.

The research site provides information that is used to predict the amount, timing and destination of snowmelt.

“We want to understand processes like snowmelt dynamics, which tell us when we can expect to see water filling our reservoirs,” Jones said. “We also want to understand how vegetation affects snowpack and water delivery to our reservoirs and ground water.”

This could be good news for farmers in Cache Valley who are worried about a dry growing season, according to Clark Israelsen, the Utah State University agricultural extension agent for Cache County.

“We depend on the predictions hydrologists make,” Israelsen said. “The information can help us anticipate when the water will be available. It can also help us know when the water will be gone.”

Israelsen predicted the research will help farmers decide when to irrigate.

The research instruments were installed in 2007 as a way to improve drought prediction and management in Utah. Data results are projected to get more accurate over time as more data is collected.

“The next step is interest,” Jones said. “The longer we wait and collect data, the more informative the data is in terms of telling us what has happened and what then might be the future trends.”

The research site is a part of the iUtah network, a statewide research project addressing water issues.

More information about the research site or other iUtah projects can be found on the iUtah website at http://iutahepscor.org/.

– mdl

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