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Control gates open for one of the largest natural freshwater lakes after it hits record water levels: 'Our reservoirs are full'

"It will take all of us working together to protect and sustain the lake."

"It will take all of us working together to protect and sustain the lake."

Photo Credit: iStock

Restoration of water levels in Utah's Great Salt Lake has received a little help from the nearby Utah Lake.

Utah Lake was considered full in February, and control gates had to be opened to release water down the Jordan River and toward the Great Salt Lake.

The Great Salt Lake has seen declining water levels in recent years amid drought conditions. As NPR and WBUR's Here & Now observed, that has led to the disappearance of migratory birds, while locals are at risk of toxic dust that has been exposed on the lake bed. 

According to ABC4, around 300 million gallons per day can be released while the floodgates are open. The rising water levels in Utah Lake have been recorded following a record snowpack in 2023. 

Utah also experienced high precipitation levels that broke a streak of dry years in the state. At the start of that year, the U.S. Drought Monitor said 90% of the state was in severe drought conditions, with nearly a quarter in "extreme" drought or worse, as KSL noted. This eased significantly by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, average temperatures were much lower than in other areas of the United States, easing the burden of drought.

"The snowpack last year combined with the conservation efforts of Salt Lake Valley and Utah Valley residents means that our reservoirs are full," Wade Tuft, director of the Utah Lake Water Users Association (ULWUA), told ABC4. "Utah Lake is approaching the compromise elevation because water users are storing water from last year while it continues to snow and rain in the watersheds feeding Utah Lake."

However, while this is a positive development for the Great Salt Lake's water levels, Tuft tempered expectations. Around 30 thousand acre-feet of water was expected to be released from Utah Lake, but Great Salt Lake holds around 14 million acre-feet. 

"In terms of impact, it's not going to be huge, but every little bit helps at this point," Tuft told KSL News.

Efforts are underway to restore the Great Salt Lake to its former water levels, and a strategic plan was announced in January 2024 to achieve this. 

"Striking the right balance for the Great Salt Lake is no small task, especially among the pressures of continued growth, sustained drought and higher temperatures that threaten to increase demand and shrink available water supplies even further," Commissioner Brian Steed said in a press release. "It will take all of us working together to protect and sustain the lake."

While 2023 was something of a relief for Utah regarding weather conditions, the United States as a whole still witnessed its fifth warmest year on record, per KSL.

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It's a tricky situation. While increasingly warm weather brings a rising risk of intense storms, it also makes drought conditions more likely. But since the declining levels of Great Salt Lake have been seen in the last decade or so, it stands to reason that a return to typical average temperatures is essential for the lake's survival.

That's why reducing planet-warming pollution is so important.

Small daily changes, like ditching gas-guzzling cars for public transport or electric models, or cutting your weekly consumption of meat, can reduce the amount of harmful warming gases produced by humans. Great Salt Lake will thank us for it. 

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