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Great Salt Lake likely peaks for the year and will start dropping again

Posted at 4:25 PM, May 31, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — The Great Salt Lake has likely peaked, reaching its highest water levels of the year and will start dropping again.

"The lake levels have been bouncing around elevation 4,195," said Tim Davis, the deputy Great Salt Lake Commissioner, whose office is tasked with turning around the lake's declines.

This is normal for the lake, which sees declines every summer as a result of upstream water diversion and evaporation.

"The lake typically rises and falls in a normal year about two feet, give or take," Davis told FOX 13 News on Friday. "Hopefully, the lake will stay where it is right now for about as long as possible before it goes back down."

The Great Salt Lake is still up about six feet from its historic low in 2022, when it dropped to an alarming 4,188.5 feet on the south arm. That sparked panic among the public and policymakers alike. The Great Salt Lake helps provide snowpack, is a refuge for millions of migratory birds and other wildlife, and is a major economic contributor to Utah with minerals and even brine shrimp.

While an elevation of 4,195 feet is a welcome improvement, the lake remains several feet below what is considered ecologically healthy. A shrinking Great Salt Lake presents a significant threat to our public health, wildlife and the economy in the form of reduced snowpack (roughly 95% of Utah's water supply comes from snow), potentially toxic dust and other impacts.

To help fill the lake, local water districts have been releasing more water. That is still happening as reservoirs are fuller thanks to another strong winter. Going forward, the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's office said conservation remains critical — and there are new signs it is working.

"Secondary metering has saved water and that water is in reservoirs. With the snow water, I can’t say how much, but some of that conserved water has made it to the lake," Davis said.

Secondary water metering is being rolled out across the state after the Utah State Legislature approved a bill to expand it. Studies have shown when outdoor water use is measured, people have reduced their use by 30%. Other conservation programs being utilized include agriculture optimization, which is getting farmers — the state's top water user — to switch to newer, water-saving technologies to grow crops.

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.