ENVIRONMENT

Utah Lake managers to release excess water, may boost Great Salt Lake’s water levels

Feb 7, 2024, 2:30 PM

Utah lake shown, the lake is full...

Lincoln Beach and Utah Lake can be seen in the distance in Spanish Fork on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (Ben B. Braun/Deseret News)

(Ben B. Braun/Deseret News)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — Utah Lake is nearly full. As of Wednesday, the Utah Division of Water Resources reported, the lake was over 99% of capacity.

This is forcing managers to open the control gates in Saratoga Springs, which will dump millions of gallons of water into the Jordan River every day while it’s open. According to early estimates by the Utah Lake Water Users Association, the lake could release as much as 300 million gallons of water daily while the gates are open.

This abundance of water, set to start flowing into the Jordan River sometime this week, could provide a direct boost to the ailing Great Salt Lake to the north.

The Jordan River flows north all the way to Farmington Bay, which happens to be one of the biggest contributors to the toxic dust that’s getting kicked up in wind storms. So, not only could the lake get a boost, it could cover more of the exposed lakebed.

There’s no guarantee how much excess water will actually make it to the Great Salt Lake. But any that does is expected to directly impact the lake’s struggling water levels.

As of Wednesday, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Great Salt Lake is sitting at an elevation of 4,193 feet above sea level. That’s up roughly half a foot since the beginning of winter. However, the lake’s healthy range is 4,196 to 4,200, with 4,198 being the optimal level. Meaning the lake is still 5 feet shy of its optimal level.

How this water could make a difference

Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed addressed the media Wednesday. During this time, he said whatever water does reach the Great Salt Lake will not evaporate. This means it could have a direct impact on the low water levels.

Steed also said releasing water ahead of spring runoff not only creates room for reservoirs to catch this year’s snow water but also means we could lose less of it as it travels toward the Great Salt Lake.

“Sometimes in flood conditions…water managers will…open up all the headgates along the way down and water spills out into canals and into fields,” Steed said. “That’s all beneficial for a lot of things, but it may not be most beneficial for the lake.”

Steed also said they have asked every major water district that manages reservoirs upstream from Great Salt Lake to release whatever water they safely can to help boost lake levels.

It’s unclear if any districts will release water for Great Salt Lake, how much levels could rise, or if any water coming from Utah Lake will be diverted for any other purpose.

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Utah Lake managers to release excess water, may boost Great Salt Lake’s water levels