SALT LAKE CITY — Expectations for the Great Salt Lake to set an all-time record low during Utah's devastating drought became reality Saturday.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the southern portion of the lake has now dropped about an inch below the previous record of 4,191.4 feet set in 1963. What's even worse is that USGS officials predict the lake's water level will continue to fall.
"Based on current trends and historical data, the USGS anticipates water levels may decline an additional foot over the next several months," said USGS Utah Water Science Center data chief Ryan Rowland in a statement. "This information is critical in helping resource managers make informed decisions on Great Salt Lake resources. You can’t manage what you don’t measure."
The data released on Saturday confirmed what FOX 13 first reported earlier this week — that the lake had dropped to the historic low, and Utah's Division of Water Resources believed it was already lower than that. The agency relies on average elevation data for the lake level to track lake levels.
The Great Salt Lake shrinking has alarmed environmentalists, scientists and political leaders. On Tuesday, Governor Spencer Cox said they were working on plans to try to save it. He called on Utahns to continue to conserve water in the historic drought.
"The more water we save, the more water there is to run into the Great Salt Lake. So we’re working with scientists with our various departments and nationally on what it’s going to take to keep those levels high enough, to keep that ecosystem viable. We can’t lose that ecosystem," the governor told FOX 13.
Scientists have said the lake has seen declines in the past few decades for a number of reasons including water diversion, climate change and now the state's mega-drought. The Great Salt Lake helps to cool the area and generates a lot of snowpack through "lake effect," helping to replenish reservoirs. The lake is also a refuge for millions of migratory birds each year and an economic engine with mineral extraction, brine shrimp harvest and even benefiting the ski industry.
The lake's low levels are not only a water concern, but a potential environmental catastrophe. The diminishing lake bed will increase air pollution problems in northern Utah as dust and potentially toxic minerals blow into nearby communities.
"We must find ways to balance Utah’s growth with maintaining a healthy lake. Ecological, environmental and economical balance can be found by working together as elected leaders, agencies, industry, stakeholders and citizens working together,” Utah Department of Natural Resources executive director Brian Steed said in a statement on Saturday.
Earlier this week, FOX 13 reported that lawmakers were considering water conservation legislation to protect the lake. House Speaker Brad Wilson said there were a lot of ideas, but no concrete plan yet.
For the latest information on water levels at the lake, visit the USGS website.