State water managers were excited to announce in January 2023 that the level of the Great Salt was up by one foot since it hit a historic low in November 2022.
Several years of drought caused the Great Salt Lake’s levels to plummet to new lows. The lake hit a new low of 4,190.2 feet in October 2021 and then went on to another low of 4,188.2 feet in November 2022.
The previous low level for the Great Salt Lake was 4191.4 feet, set in October 1963.
The Great Salt Lake has had its ups and downs since recorded lake levels began in 1875. At its all-time historic high, set in the 1870s, the lake sat at 4,211.6 feet and covered 3,300 square miles of surface area.
At the 1963 low of 4,191.4 feet, the lake was left covering 950 square miles of surface area, a loss of about 44% of the lake’s surface area.
The Great Salt Lake impacts Tooele County as it is the home to some of Tooele County’s largest employers and taxpayers.
U.S. Magnesium, with around 500 employees, is the fifth largest employer in Tooele County. Morton Salt and Cargill Salt rank number 18 and 25 as county employers with between 100 and 250 employees each, according to Department of Workforce Services statistics.
U.S. Magnesium is the second largest countywide property taxpayer. Cargill Salt ranks as the ninth largest county property taxpayer.
There are also Tooele County residents that work harvesting brine shrimp from the lake.
The 2023 Utah State Legislature attacked the decreasing level of the lake with several pieces of legislation during their recently completed general session.
While efforts to set a target level for the Great Salt Lake failed, the Legislature did create the position of Great Salt Lake Commissioner, to be appointed by the governor with consent of the Senate.
The commissioner will be charged with developing a plan to protect the health of the Great Salt Lake and implementing that plan. The commissioner will become the lake’s protector, planner, arbiter and spokesperson.
The Legislature also appropriated funds to help farmers reduce their water use, stopped homeowner associations from prohibiting low water use during periods of drought, changed mineral royalty agreements and fees, established an emergency trigger to protect the lake’s brine shrimp, and limited water reuse projects that divert water that would end up in the lake.
A Great Salt Lake Strike Team, a volunteer team composed of experts from Utah’s public research universities and state agencies, was organized to provide timely, high-quality, and relevant data and research to help decision-makers make informed decisions about the Great Salt Lake. They prepared a written report prior to the start of the 2023 legislative session.
In their report the team wrote, “Fortunately, we have many options to improve water management and increase water deliveries to the lake. If we act, the many economic, health, and ecological benefits we derive from the lake will not be lost.”