Drought's End at Provo River Falls

July 11, 2019



Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

A multi-year drought has come to a spectacular end in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah, as shown in a pair of photographs featured here. In the first, taken on June 26, 2019, turbulent white water is cascading down the upper Provo River Falls, an overlook along the forested Mirror Lake Scenic Highway (State Road 150). This contrasts with the pitiful ribbons of water trickling down the same stepped formation eight months earlier, as illustrated in an earlier photo taken on September 16, 2018.

Utah’s governor declared a state of emergency in the autumn of 2018, due to the persistent drought conditions of the previous 6 years. The situation seemed dire. The preceding winter’s snowpack was only half of normal expectations and melted early. In remarkable contrast, precipitation was well above normal across much of the western United States (except the Northwest) during the winter of 2018-19 and the spring of 2019. Utah experienced the second-wettest spring on record, through May 2019, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Drought Information System. The snowpack at the end of May was at 400 percent of normal in the California, Great Basin, Upper Colorado and Rio Grande regions. Weak El Niño conditions are likely to continue through the summer, the NOAA reports.

The Provo River’s headwaters, not far above the falls, are in the glaciated watershed around the Uintas’ imposing Bald Mountain (elevation 11,943 ft or 3,640 m). The river flows south and west, through canyons of the Uinta and Wasatch mountain ranges, as well as the city of Provo, Utah, toward Utah Lake. Utah Lake, in turn, feeds into the Great Basin’s terminal, or endorheic, Great Salt Lake. The Provo River Falls, at an elevation around 9,352 ft (2,851 m), is a series of stepped waterfalls, with 4 major tiers, as the stream tumbles down ledges of stratified bedrock. The World Waterfall Database estimates the total drop of the falls to be about 100 ft (30.5 m), though no individual tier is more than 35 ft tall (10.7 m).

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3500; Exposure Time: 0.033s (1/30); Aperture: ƒ/22.0; ISO equivalent: 100; Focal Length (35mm): 18. Bottom - Same except: Exposure Time: 0.017s (1/60); Aperture: ƒ/8.0; ISO equivalent: 400.