LAYTON, Utah (ABC4) – Billions of gallons of water are being dumped into the Great Salt Lake daily after a historic snowpack has forced cities and water conservation organizations to mitigate flood efforts by draining the reservoirs.
Weber Basin Water Conservancy District (WBWCD) General Manager Scott Paxman explained the conservancy district will be opening the outlet of the Willard Bay Reservoir and directing the flow of water through the Willard Spur and into the Great Salt Lake. According to the State Parks website, the reservoir is currently 85% to capacity.
WBWCD estimated that 650 million gallons of water per day is flowing from Willard Bay, a man-made reservoir just north of Ogden. In addition, 2.5 billion gallons of water per day is reportedly flowing past the Willard Canal into the Great Salt Lake.
According to officials, releasing this water serves two purposes. The first is to reduce the risk of flooding by creating space in reservoirs before the peak snowpack runoff, which is expected to hit in June. The other is to allow water to flow into the Great Salt Lake and raise water levels.
Over the winter, Utah’s snow water equivalent reached an all-time record high of 30 inches. As of May 12, just over half of the snowpack has melted, leaving 15.3 inches of snow water equivalent left. The snow water equivalent determines how much water is available in the snow.
Since November, the Great Salt Lake has risen four feet, thanks to the record-breaking winter. WBWCD said nearly half of the water contributing to the rise has come from Weber and Ogden drainage.
“Who would have thought last October that we would be standing here in the second week of May, talking about a full reservoir behind us, ready to release water?” said Utah Sen. Scott Sandall (R-District 1). “We’ve got to focus and begin to change our mindset on the parts that we can play in conservation and better use of water that does fall on our lands.”
During an April interview with ABC4, BYU hydrology and ecology professor Ben Abbott said the lake was at an all-time low last fall. Abbott told ABC4 managing the spring runoff is a balancing act between choosing the health of the lake and having enough water accessible to those who need it. However, no matter where the water ends ups up, Abbott emphasized the time to conserve is now.
“It really emphasizes the most powerful thing we can do is live within our means,” said Abbott. “We can’t expect nature year after year to give us an above average winter, especially now with facing these issues of climate change and long term drought.”
Abbott and his colleagues published a report in January where they looked at the decline of the lake. They estimated Utahns had five years left to save the lake before it collapsed. Because of the historic winter, about another year – maybe two – has been added to that timeline.