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More reservoir releases planned to keep Great Salt Lake rising

By Ben Winslow - Fox 13 | Apr 26, 2024

Great Salt Lake Collaborative

Editor’s note: This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

SALT LAKE CITY — The man tasked by Utah’s political leaders with helping to save the Great Salt Lake is hoping to take advantage of another strong winter snowpack to raise the levels of the lake.

FOX 13 News reported on Monday the Great Salt Lake had risen about six feet so far. Meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed said that with reservoirs nearly full and snow yet to melt, local water districts have agreed to additional releases of water downstream. For example, Deer Creek Reservoir is 95% full and Utah Lake is currently 102% full. To make room for more melting snow, that sends water downstream into the Great Salt Lake.

“They have been great partners in this,” Steed said of the local water districts.

But starting next week, water diversions will begin for agriculture and other uses. The forecast is also calling for a hotter summer, which means there will be more evaporation on the Great Salt Lake.

“It is a big, flat lake. That lake warms up rather quickly and one of the reasons we haven’t seen more gains on the Great Salt Lake is because we had this warm and windy April. You see that evaporative loss,” Steed told reporters. “If that continues in the summer you will see higher evaporation losses as well. That concerns all of us and it necessitates more water in the lake.”

Work is being done among scientists, policymakers and water stakeholders to get more into the Great Salt Lake. Bills the legislature passed in recent years designed to reverse the lake’s declines are going into effect (more will take effect next week including one limiting the amount of water mineral extraction companies can use).

The Great Salt Lake, which shrunk to a historic low in 2022 as a result of water diversions, drought and impacts from climate change, remains several feet below what is considered a “healthy range” ecologically. Steed said that could take years to reach even with the benefit of strong winters and is now a longer-term goal.

There are some more positive developments, however. Steed told reporters on Wednesday that they have decided to keep a breach open in the causeway that divides the north and south arms of the Great Salt Lake. Doing so has helped to react to changes in the salinity of the lake (which impacts species that live in and around it).

So far, it’s yielded positive developments. Salinity is about 11.5 to 12%, Steed said.

“That’s close to what we’d like to see,” he said. “It’s good for ecological productivity.”


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