Speed Reads

road to recovery

A snowy winter helped Great Salt Lake water levels rise 3 feet above historic low

Thanks to record snowfall, the Great Salt Lake's water levels are rising — welcome news to researchers who issued a bleak report in January, warning that the lake was on track to disappear in the next five years.

In November, the Great Salt Lake — home to brine shrimp, amphibians, birds, plants, and reptiles — hit a record low of 4,188.6 feet above sea level, Brigham Young University researchers said, losing more than 70 percent of its water since 1850. The Great Salt Lake is fed by three rivers that rely on snow runoff, and in its report, the BYU team said unsustainable water use, water being diverted away for agriculture and business, and drought is "destroying" the lake. Without strict water conservation efforts, the report said, the Great Salt Lake would not make it.

Utah had a very snowy winter, with eight ski resorts receiving record snowfall. As of April 5, the Great Salt Lake has risen three feet since November, and in the next few months, as the snowpack melts, will fill up even more, with Utah's Division of Water Resources saying the lake level could increase by three to four feet. This year's snowpack is "nothing short of miraculous," BYU ecologist Ben Abbott, lead author of the January report, told The Washington Post.

The lake is still six feet below what Abbott said is "the minimum acceptable elevation for the lake's ecological and economic health," and in order to fully replenish the Great Salt Lake, "we need to reduce our consumptive water use by 30 to 50 percent." Candice Hasenyager, director of Utah's Division of Water Resources, told the Post that the situation has definitely improved at the Great Salt Lake and should be celebrated, but "we must continue to prioritize water conservation efforts and make sustainable water management decisions for the future of this vital ecosystem and for water users throughout the basin."