Water levels drop, visitation sky rockets at Bear Lake State Park

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GARDEN CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The drought has taken its toll on lakes and reservoirs across the state, but at some it’s not as noticeable. It may not be because the water isn’t low, but rather, because park attendance is so high.

Bright blue waters form Bear Lake in the northeastern corner of Utah. It’s more than 18 miles long and seven miles wide. Like many lakes, the drought is beginning to take its toll.

Bear Lake State Park officials gave ABC4 a break down of the water level lows and highs over the past seven years by elevation:
2015 — Low: 5,911.15′
High: 5,914.45′
2016 — Low: 5,910.6′
High: 5,914.45′
2017 — Low: 5,919.1′
High: 9.922.35′
2018 — Low: 5,916.35′
High: 5,920.45′
2019 — Low: 5,917.85′
High: 5,920.3′
2020 — Low: 5,916.05′
High: 5,919.45′

Currently, the lake’s elevation sits at 5,913.8′. Park Manager Richard Droesbeke told ABC4 this means the lake is 9.5 vertical feet below capacity. He said they expect it to drop by another foot to a foot and a half by the end of the season. However, this will not mean the lake will hit it’s lowest water level. Droesbeke explained in 2004, the water level dropped 18 vertical feet below capacity. Nonetheless, he said the difference was that winter, the lake’s water rose by more than 11 feet. He said this past winter, the water level only rose by nine inches. They are hoping this winter doesn’t prove to be similar.

However, park officials say they aren’t panicking yet. This, in part, thanks to the efforts of the communities that use water from the lake.

Garden City is one of those communities and has water restrictions in place. These restrictions follow the state’s guidance. Residents are asked to water at most twice a week.

“We’re looking forward to this and trying to conserve what we can because we just don’t know when the rain is going to come,” Garden City Fire Chief Mike Wahlberg told ABC4.

Wahlberg explained the conservation effort means the town has more than two million gallons of water saved in reserves.

Park officials said many towns, like Garden City, use water from the lake and are doing their part to conserve water.

While the water level hasn’t reached historic lows, visitation is reaching historic highs.

“Last year with the whole COVID, outdoor recreation really took off, and we saw the biggest numbers we have seen in quite some time,” Bear Lake Funtime Mechanic Cutris Merrill told ABC4. “And this season, we’ve seen another, about the same thing, another 50% increase with people now aware of Bear Lake.”

Merrill said the rental company has been working around the clock to keep up the the increase in demand for the different equipment they rent out.

He, and park officials, explained that the low water level means there currently is more beach space for visitors, and this allows for a higher visitor capacity.

Merrill explained: “Visitors are able to park down on the beach at Rendezvous Beach, so that’s opened up about three times the traffic we’d normally be able to fit inside that state park, especially on the north end of the lake that have the shallower areas with more beach front.”

Droesbeke told ABC4 that even with the lower water lever, they do not expect to shut down any of their boat ramps this summer. He also reminded Utahns to do their part to help conserve water during the drought.

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