Great Salt Lake got some attention from the state, and so did looking for water elsewhere

The small bump comes despite a solid snowpack this year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Great Salt Lake Marina, on Friday, December 29, 2023.

Editor’s note • The following is an excerpt from the Salt Lake Tribune’s new Open Lands newsletter, a twice-a-month newsletter about Utah’s land, water and air from the environment team. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on and news we’re following, sign up to have Open Lands delivered to your inbox.

The Utah Snow Survey reports around 870,000 acre-feet will probably flow to the Great Salt Lake between April and July. That amount of water should raise the lake’s elevation by about 1.2 feet.

The forecast assumes the Department of Natural Resources and Great Salt Lake Commissioner won’t hold most of that runoff in the lake’s southern arm by raising the berm in the railroad causeway that cuts off the north arm from river inflows. The Utah Snow Survey can’t predict those kinds of management decisions. The railroad causeway plays a big role in the lake’s health and elevations.

Chart: Leia Larsen | The Salt Lake Tribune. Source: U.S. Geological Survey. Created with Datawrapper.

The prediction of a 1.2-foot rise comes despite a solid snowpack this year. Jordan Clayton, the current supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey, noted the estimate is conservative. Most of Utah’s reservoirs are still quite full, thanks to 2023′s record-setting year. And our soil moisture remains quite high, also thanks to 2023. That probably means more water will make it to the lake than he’s forecasting.

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Speaking of the Great Salt Lake, let’s take a look at how it’s doing.

Water managers have been releasing storage from reservoirs in anticipation of the coming runoff, and it shows. Those releases, combined with precipitation the lake has received directly from this nice, wet winter has raised the south arm’s elevation by about two feet from its lowest point of the year, when it stopped losing water to evaporation in the late fall. Water is flowing through the causeway to help the north arm, too, which has already seen about two feet of gains since the fall.

Taking a look down south, there hasn’t been whole lot of movement in Lake Powell’s elevation over the winter.

Chart: Leia Larsen | The Salt Lake Tribune. Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Created with Datawrapper.

The reservoir currently sits at 34% full, while its bigger downstream sister reservoir, Lake Mead, sits at 37% full.

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