Great Salt Lake hits record water level lows, experts say

Posted at 9:46 PM, Dec 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-30 09:54:57-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- We've hit a new record low on the north arm of the Great Salt Lake. Hydrologists say levels have not been this shallow since the 1960s.

These changes in the lake levels mean big changes to wildlife, recreation, economy and possibly Utahns’ health.

“As long as the lake continues to go down the problem isn't solved. We need the lake to come up,” said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Lake levels have been sinking throughout the years. The effects hit hard in May when, for the first time in three decades, lines of sail boats were taken out of the water.

“Right now the harbor here is so low many of the sail boats cannot stay afloat they'll be grounded and stuck in the mud,” Curry said.

Monitoring water levels since the 1950s the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands and the U.S. Geological Survey say this week the lake reached a record low.

“We record data every 15 minutes. We use a radar that measures down to the lake and from that distance we know the lake elevation,” said Cory Angeroth, Hydrologist for the United States Geological Survey.

For the first time water has stopped flowing through the Great Salt Lake’s causeway breach, splitting the lake in two.

“The Great Salt Lake is really unique in that it's really shallow and a flat bottom lake as the water drops it exposes a foot of drop exposes a lot of lake bed,” Angeroth said.

The lake's health affects industry, recreation and even air quality. Hydrologists say these low levels also hurt wildlife and the large eco-system on and off the lake's shores.

“It's a globally significant water fowl stopping point resting area rookery and water fowl are dependent on the great salt lake to rest to feed and to rear their young,” Curry said.

Experts are now working to cut down on negative impacts to the lake by boosting research and increasing law enforcement on the lake bed to keep people off the newly exposed areas. They will also dredge the Saltair marina in the spring.

“We're hoping for more and hoping to see the lake come up as we reach 2016,” Curry said.

For that to happen hydrologists say we need a large snowpack this year, similar to 2011, to help water levels come up. If that doesn't happen they say it's possible in 2016 the south arm of the lake could also reach record lows.