Although the Great Salt Lake is currently within feet of an historic low level, the lake’s harbormaster said there is reason to believe conditions will improve next spring.
The lake currently sits at an elevation of 4,193.5 feet above sea level, compared to a historic low of 4,191.6, said Dave Shearer, harbormaster for the Great Salt Lake Marina. The last time it sank this low, he said, was 1963.
The lake’s elevation typically fluctuates about two feet every season, he said, gaining two feet from runoff in the spring and losing two feet to evaporation over the summer.
This year, however, the lake received just one foot of runoff, despite relatively healthy snowpack in the surrounding mountains.
“The water never got here,” Shearer said. “It just went straight into the ground.”
But the lake has managed to avoid losing an extraordinary amount of water thanks to this year’s cool summer. This August’s wet weather was especially helpful in keeping evaporation loss at a minimum. So far the lake has lost just two feet of elevation this summer, Shearer said.
Forecasts anticipating a wetter than normal fall are also encouraging, he added. If the current trend continues, he said he expects to see the lake get a good rise next spring.
Additionally, he said, the lake seems to rise and fall according to a 30-year cycle. If the cycle holds, this year should mark the end of an extended dry spell, and the water levels should begin rising again.
In the meanwhile, Shearer said tourism on the lake hasn’t been significantly impacted by low water levels. Though water depth at the marina has stranded about 50 percent of the boats there, he said there are still plenty of opportunities for kayaking, paddle boarding, duck hunting and other activities, and tourists still arrive at the marina by the bus load every day.
The lake’s shoreline changes dramatically with each foot of elevation lost. Normally, the lake covers between 1,500 and 1,700 square miles, Shearer said, but today it sits around 1,000 square miles. Back in 1963, the lake covered just 900 square miles.
As the shore recedes, it not only makes the lake less accessible in some areas, but also exposes land bridges to some of the lake’s islands. Predators then have access to areas that generally serve as safe refuges for various species of birds that frequent the area.