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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Great Salt Lake Gains ‘Symbolic’ Inflow of Water from Utah Lake

While the influx is not enough to fully restore the Great Salt Lake, it is representative of Utah lawmakers’ dedication to finding solutions for the lake’s diminished water levels.
Sarah Karr
The Utah Lake in Saratoga Springs, Utah on February on Feb. 22, 2024. (Photo by Sarah Karr | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Utah Lake’s floodgates were opened early this year as its reservoir reached full capacity. The water outflows into the Jordan River and will likely enter the Great Salt Lake.

The Utah Division of Water Resources estimates nearly 300 million gallons of water from the lake will be released into the Jordan River per day by the middle of March. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District data indicates Utah Lake was over 100% full in late February.

Paul Brooks, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, said the water release is meant to prevent flooding in Utah Lake and the Jordan River, particularly before spring snowmelt.

“While it sounds like it’s a lot of water — it is a lot of water in one sense, [but] the Great Salt Lake is really, really large, and so its importance to the Great Salt Lake is more symbolic than it is in terms of actually putting a lot of water in,” he said.

Wade Tuft, water supply manager for the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, told KSL the water released from Utah Lake would be about 30,000 acre-feet. Brooks said the Great Salt Lake needs at least two million acre-feet a year to sustain it.

Teresa Wilhelmsen, state engineer at the Division of Water Rights, told the Daily Herald this is the first time Utah Lake’s floodgates have opened since 2011. Wilhelmsen added the decision to open the barrier is made once the lake reaches a compromised level, outlined in a court order in 1985.

The Great Salt Lake’s water level fell to the lowest point in recorded history in November 2022. The lake’s water elevated by 3.5 feet in 2023 after some emergency measures and better than expected winter snowfall, according to a Great Salt Lake Strike Team report released in January 2024.

A report led by Brigham Young University said the Great Salt Lake has lost 73% of its water since 1850 and the lake has had an average deficit of 1.2 million acre-feet per year since 2020. The report also said excessive water consumption is the primary cause of the decline, with agricultural use for growing alfalfa and other crops making up nearly two-thirds of total water use.

The BYU report added the decrease in water levels exposes the lake bed, allowing for toxic dust with arsenic, mercury and other metals to sweep into the valley, which increases the risk of cognitive impairment, cancer, cardiovascular damage and other chronic illnesses linked to air pollution.

Utah state senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo) opened a bill file that would fund a study observing whether Utah Lake can help refill the Great Salt Lake. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the bill would provide roughly $2 million to scientific research.

The Utah State Legislature proposed a flurry of water bills in the 2024 General Session. One of the most notable, H.B. 453 Great Salt Lake Revisions, would raise the severance tax, rentals and royalties on extracting minerals from the Great Salt Lake.

According to Fox 13 News, Compass Minerals International abandoned a lithium extraction project on the Great Salt Lake due to “regulatory risk,” possibly referring to H.B. 453. The company had invested $77 million in the project.

In February 2024, statewide reservoirs were at a record-high 82% capacity. Last year, the reservoirs were less than 50% full, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Last year, Utah had the largest statewide snowpack in modern history, according to KSL News.

“The wet periods buy us a little bit of time, as long as we remember that they’re going to be followed by some dry periods after that,” Brooks said. “That’s what I think is most important and exciting about Utah Lake, because we’ve come out of a really, really bad drought, and now we can start thinking creatively about how we can use water a little bit more wisely and more efficiently for the next five or ten years.”

State senator Nate Blouin (D-Salt Lake) proposed bill S.B. 196, which would have the Great Salt Lake Commissioner’s Office create a strategic long-term plan for diverting water to the Great Salt Lake during wet years.

Brooks said Utah’s growing population, the warmer climate and agricultural water use have made public knowledge gaps an urgent concern for lawmakers, especially as it becomes clear there are gaps in researchers’ knowledge, too.

“Fortunately, the state of Utah is investing a lot of money in that, which is really nice to see — people from all these different groups who are competing for the same water are sitting down and trying to solve the issue and trying to figure out what data is needed, what research studies are needed to fill these gaps so that we don’t make mistakes,” Brook said.


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About the Contributors
Giovanni Radtke
Giovanni Radtke, Assistant News Editor
Giovanni Radtke is a junior at the U with an associate degree in journalism and digital media from Salt Lake Community College. He is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Giovanni is a self-proclaimed cinephile who loves traveling and reading history books.
Sarah Karr
Sarah Karr, Photographer
Sarah Karr was born and raised in Springfield, Oregon, and is attending the University of Utah with a major is communication and a minor in digital photography. Sarah is working with the Chronicle to improve her photojournalism skills and gain some experience in the newsroom. In her free time, Sarah likes to play online games, read and tend to her plants.

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