Great Salt Lake nears record low as Utah drought continues

Utah Drought

William and Kayla Darling play with their son King along the Great Salt Lake Tuesday, June 15, 2021, near Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City set another heat record Tuesday, June 15, 2021, and experienced its hottest day of the year as the state’s record-breaking heat wave persists. Utah’s capitol hit 104 degrees, breaking the previous heat record for that date of 103 degrees, according to information from the National Weather Service. On Monday, Salt Lake City hit 103 degrees to break a heat record for that date set nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Great Salt Lake may be the latest victim of Utah’s widespread drought and high temperatures.

The Utah Rivers Council released a report Thursday, saying the Great Salt Lake has dropped to its lowest level in history – below 4190.8 feet – “because of reduced snowpacks from climate change and upstream water diversions.”

The Council says water diversions have depleted lake levels “dramatically,” adding that “water lobbyists are proposing the largest new water project in the American West which will drop the Lake several more feet in elevation.” In a Thursday release, they cite the proposed Bear River Development that would divert the Great Salt Lake water source.

“The only way to save the Lake is by reducing our water use via commonsense conservation policies,” says Zach Frankel, Executive Director of the Utah Rivers Council. “But that’s going to require courage from our state legislators who must stand up to the lobbyists making millions stopping water conservation bills from being passed at the Utah Legislature to advance new spending bills in their place.”

Yet state wildlife officials say reports that the Great Salt Lake has reached a historic low are “premature.”

“Reports that the Great Salt Lake has dropped below its historic low elevation of 4,191.35 are premature. The Utah Division of Water Resources is following the lake’s elevation closely and expects it will drop below that point in the coming days,” Utah Department of Natural Resources Director Brian Steed says in a statement. “Conditions like wind, inflow, and evaporation can cause the lake’s elevation to fluctuate. Sometimes those swings are extreme. To account for this, the division evaluates daily averages rather than the instantaneous readings recorded every 15-minutes. Taking this approach provides us with a more accurate reading rather than a single snapshot in time.”

Steed goes on to call the pending milestone of reaching a historic low is “concerning,” adding that the value of the Great Salt Lake is significant.

“Coordination and cooperation are key to solving this unique challenge,” Steed explains. “It’s important that we maintain a unified front between policy leaders, industry, wildlife and all stakeholders to balance the state’s growth with the health of the lake.”

Governor Spencer Cox echoed the sentiment, saying, “As the Great Salt Lake nears a new recorded historic low, it’s a sobering reminder of the heavy impact this extreme drought is having on Utah as it has accelerated lake levels to this unprecedented point.”

In March, Senator Mitt Romney introduced a co-sponsored bill to help protect the ecosystems of saline lakes like the Great Salt Lake.

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