SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Last year, the Great Salt Lake was in a dire situation.
“Last fall the lake was at its all-time low level, so we were looking at two-thirds of the lake bed being exposed,” said BYU hydrology and ecology professor Ben Abbott.
However, after a winter full of record-breaking snowfall, the future of the lake just got a whole lot brighter. The Division of Water Resources says that the lake has already risen three feet since last November and with the ongoing runoff and snowmelt, that number is expected to increase.
“The estimates that I’ve seen range from two to four additional feet that we might see the lake level go up,” said Abbott.
But Abbot continued by saying that it all depends on where we choose this water to go. Water could be stored in Utah’s reservoirs. Abbott told ABC4 the reservoirs can store a lot of the winter’s snowpack, which can allow for later use of the water. The downside being reservoirs keep the water from reaching the Great Salt Lake, where it can raise water levels.
Abbott explains the decision as a balancing act between choosing the health of the lake and having enough water accessible for those who need it. But no matter where the water ends up, 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 said that the efforts made to save the lake aren’t going to waste and that this winter and the floods we are and will see gives us the extra time that we need.
“I know that it’s really hard to be grateful when your basement is flooding or your road is collapsing but this is actually the lifeblood of the Great Salt Lake and it’s going to give us a little bit more wiggle room as we implement the conservation measures we need to refill the lake,” said Abbott
Abbott and his colleagues published a report in January where they looked at the decline of the lake. They estimated that we had five years to save the lake before it collapsed. Now, because of this winter, we have approximately a year or two more added to that five-year timeline.
There is still a lot of work to be done now and in the future, but Abbott believes that if Utah continues down this path of conservation and retention, we won’t be saying goodbye to the Great Salt Lake just yet.
“When I see the level of solidarity and focus and vision in our community. This is not a political issue, it’s not an urban vs rural issue, this is a Utah issue and that really does give me hope and faith that we can do this together.”