The Great Salt Lake’s water level rose half way to a healthy point after a particularly wet year in Utah, but it has once again started to drop.
The Great Salt Lake—the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere—has reached historic lows in the past water year, which starts every October 1. In November 2022, the lake reached its lowest level in recorded history at 4,188.2 feet, 17 feet below the level it should be.
But Utah, along with most of the southwest, was subject to a heavy downpours over the winter and early spring period. That not only helped the state’s drought status, but the Great Salt Lake rose about 5 1/2 feet above its historic low, Candice Hasenyager, the director of Utah’s Division of Water Resources, told Fox13 Now.
At the moment, the lake is still about six feet below a healthy level. It’s currently at 4,192.2 feet, according to USGS data. The lake’s minimum healthy level is at 4,198 feet.
But water levels have already begun dropping again.
“We’re not done yet,” Hasenyager told Fox13 Now. “Last year’s record low was seen in November, so we’re anticipating the elevations to drop slightly. But we’re in a better place than we were last year.”
If the Great Salt Lake continues to shrink, it could pose a number of dangers to the state. The Great Salt Lake provides water for farming and human consumption. It’s also integral to the local climate and surrounding ecosystems.
A drying lake could cause dust pollution. As the lake covers such a vast area, the amount of dust created could be harmful to public health.
Experts previously told Newsweek that the Great Salt Lake could be gone in just 10 years if the situation worsens.
“Irrigated agriculture has diverted too much of the river flow that Great Salt Lake depends on. If we don’t increase the amount of water getting to the lake, it could be gone within a decade,” Ben Abbott, plant and wildlife sciences professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, previously told Newsweek. “Even those who live far from Utah will be affected if we lose the lake. Industry and agriculture across the country and beyond depend on magnesium and fertilizer from the Great Salt Lake, and it is the most important inland wetland in the western U.S.”
Like much of the southwest, Utah is affected by an ongoing megadrought, largely believed to be a result of climate change.
Along with the drought, the region has seen several whiplash weather events—periods of extreme rainfall following periods of extremely dry conditions.
This is what occurred during the past year. Heavy rainstorms descended on the southwest, meaning much of Utah’s drought eased.
A year ago, over half of Utah was suffering from extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Now, only 7 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions.
Experts have warned, however, that the danger is far from over, saying one wet year will do little to help the southwest’s water crisis in the long run.
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Update 10/05/23 at 10:35 a.m. ET; This article was updated to add USGS data.