Hefty snowstorm helping thirsty Great Salt Lake escape mega-drought, but keep it coming

Feb 22, 2023, 6:00 PM

great salt lake shown, a bill to preserve the lake has passed...

I-80 near the Great Salt Lake on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to a abundant water season so far, the Great Salt Lake has gained about a foot of water after dropping to the lowest levels on record in November during an exceptional drought in the West. 

How bad is the Western drought? New study says worst in 1,200 years. You read that right.

The lake also is benefitting from a hefty snowstorm dumping over Utah for most of Tuesday.

So much snow in northern Utah! When does it end?

Kevin Perry, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, joins Debbie Dujanovic to discuss the Great Salt Lake and how much of an impact all the snow this winter is having on the lake.

Perry said the lake gets all of its water from the snowpack and is at the mercy of its upstream users.

“In a normal year like this where we have a good snowpack, we can expect the lake to rise probably 3 or 3 1/2 feet in the spring and then during the summer, it’ll drop by 2 to 2 1/2 feet due to evaporation,” Perry said. “So we’re likely to get a net increase of about a foot and a half, which sounds great, but unfortunately, we’ve lost 5 feet on the lake in the last five years.”

Snow is awesome, but not awesome enough

“So while it’s awesome,” Debbie said, “it’s not awesome enough?”

“It’s not awesome enough because we need to change our behavior to conserve,” he said.

Perry said in a dry year, it’s difficult to conserve because the reservoirs are low. But in a wet year it’s important to conserve water to avoid dust blowing off the lake. And to keep the ecosystem linked to the lake from dying.

“We have 2.5 million residents along the edges of the lake. These dust plumes come off and make the air unhealthy regardless of what’s in it,” Perry told NBC News in December.

30% water savings is the target

Utah would need to receive a snowpack of at least 130% to keep the lake from shrinking and to maintain the water diversions from the lake that are already in place, he said.

“The snowpack is about 114% of normal,” Perry said. “We need more snow just to get above the 130% so that the lake will not shrink this year. . . . We need to use 30% less water than we currently use.” 

Perry said Utah agricultural industries use about 80% of the water diverted from the Great Salt Lake. Also, Utahns use about 55% of their water outdoors where it cannot be regained unlike indoor water.

“The state Legislature last year invested heavily in agricultural infrastructure to improve the water delivery methods so that farmers could use less water to grow the same amount of crops,” he said. “The Great Salt Lake Strike Team, which I’m a member of, basically determined that increasing the infrastructure for agriculture could actually end up saving us 15% of our water without actually reducing crop yields.”

Further reading:

Utahns Encouraged to Participate in USU Future of Great Salt Lake Survey


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Hefty snowstorm helping thirsty Great Salt Lake escape mega-drought, but keep it coming