Great Salt Lake Hits an Unwanted Milestone

Level reaches an all-time low as Utah battles drought
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2021 12:08 PM CDT
Great Salt Lake Hits an Unwanted Milestone
A man walks along a sand bar at the receding edge of the Great Salt Lake on June 13, 2021, near Salt Lake City.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Inevitable but still unwelcome: The US Geological Society says the average daily water level of Great Salt Lake in Utah has dropped to a historic low. The agency tweeted over the weekend that it recorded a level of 4,191.3 feet above sea level, eclipsing the previous low set in 1964, per the Salt Lake Tribune. Don't expect the record to stand very long, because the lake typically drops through August and September before rebounding in October. "The new historic low is going to be set this autumn," says Ryan Rowland of the USGS. While lake levels have been trending lower for years, this year's drought in Utah delivered the decisive blow in regard to the unwanted record. Snow melt in the spring usually raises the lake level 2 feet. This year? 6 inches.

"I have never seen it this bad—not in my lifetime," pilot Andy Wallace, who flies regularly over the lake, tells CNN. The network takes an in-depth look at the lake's problems, noting that while the drought has indeed exacerbated the trouble in 2021, longer-range issues including increased human consumption and diversion have been depleting the lake for a while. It also details the cascading problems that result for the ecosystem, which in turn take a toll on the local economy. The situation is such that the co-leaders of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College wrote an obituary for the lake back in November. "In lieu of flowers, conserve water and call your legislators to advocate for smart water laws," they wrote. (More drought stories.)

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