Great Salt Lake Drops to Historically Low Water Level, Will Get Worse Before Improvement

by Emily Morgan

A portion of the Great Salt Lake hit its lowest level in history due to Utah’s drought and extreme temperatures.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average daily level of the natural wonder was at 4191.3 feet above sea level on Friday. That figure is lower than the old record, of 4,191.35 feet, which was recorded in October of 1963. The USGS records the lake’s depth dating back to 1847 when the pioneers first arrived in the Beehive State

According to USGS Water Science Center data chief Ryan Rowland, the organization expects the lake’s water level to drop another foot in the next several months based on current trends and historical records. Rowland added that Friday’s lake level was “not going to be the record low [for long]. The new historic low is going to be set this autumn.”

History shows that the lake starts returning to normal beginning in September or October, said Laura Vernon, Great Salt Lake coordinator for the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

According to Vernon, that’s when rainstorms move into the northern part of the state and agricultural water use declines. As a result, there’s more water in the three of Utah’s main rivers that go into the lake.

Per the USGS’ reports, the gauge at the harbor went below the record several times before Friday, but only for a moment, due to winds blowing the lake water around. The average daily level is “the most representative measurement.”

Utah’s Ongoing Drought a Factor for Record Low Water Levels at Great Salt Lake

Many researchers blame the ongoing drought in Utah for the low water levels. In addition, the reduced snowpack in Utah’s mountains over the winter also is an additional cause.

When the snow in the mountain starts to melts in the spring, Vernon says, “the lake usually goes up about 2 feet every year. It could be 3 or 4 feet in an awesome year. This year, it only went up 6 inches. So it just never had a chance.”

The drought is also hitting levels of water flow in Utah’s streams, per the USGS reports. On Friday, the agency reported that 77 of the 122 stream gauges it monitors have below-normal flows. The organization has been watching these streams for the last 20 years.

However, this isn’t a new problem. The lowering levels of the lake have been present for weeks. Numerous boats at the Great Salt Lake State Park marina have been removed from their slips and put in a dry dock.

On July 15, the Utah Geological Survey reported that the drought could have a lasting negative impact on microbialites. These submerged rock mounds form the basis for the lake’s ecosystem and provide the primary food source for brine shrimp and brine flies, which are also the lake’s most abundant life forms.