Sweltering drought is wreaking havoc on the Great Salt Lake, lawns, wildlife and why recent rains won't change that

Sweltering drought is wreaking havoc on the Great Salt Lake, lawns, wildlife and why recent rains won’t change that

State and local leaders impose all kinds of water restrictions.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The shore of Great Salt Lake on Stansbury Island on Saturday, March 26, 2022. The lake could shrink another 2 feet, reaching a record high for the second year in a row, due to the persistent Utah drought.

Parts of Utah have experienced wet weather in recent days, but that hasn’t been enough to alleviate the state’s crippling drought.

Water managers are bracing for another year of scarcity, with lack of moisture expected to impact wildlife populations and cause the Great Salt Lake to plummet to a record low for a second straight year.

The US Drought Monitor shows nearly the entire state is in severe or extreme drought. Last month, Governor Spencer Cox placed the state in an emergency due to low snowpack and unprecedented dry conditions.

“Our lands are drier,” Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, said in a news release Thursday.

Steed added that May and June will likely be warmer and drier than normal, with all signs pointing to “a tough wildfire season.”

All of Salt Lake County is in severe drought or worse, with the eastern edge of the county that includes the Wasatch Mountains in extreme drought. The county council is considering a plan to turn 132 county-owned park strips and parking islands from turf to aquatic plants to save 5 million gallons of water a year.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Department of Public Utilities announced April 12 that the Utah capital would begin the irrigation season as part of Stage 2 of its five-in-one emergency plan. steps in case of water shortage. Customers are encouraged to reduce their watering by 5%.

Snowpack in the Jordan and Provo river basins is currently at 59% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s latest Utah Water Supply Outlook report, although precipitation for the hydrological year to date is close to normal at 95%.

However, Utah’s river basins will need several years of above average conditions for the reservoirs to fill. Water storage across the state is at 58% capacity, down 10% from the same time last year, the NRCS reports. The statewide snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water that will melt from the snowpack, was 66% of normal as of May 1.

“April rainfall was good for northern Utah,” the report noted, “but was not effective for the southern portion of the state.”

The Bear and Weber river basins saw near-normal precipitation and snowfall last month, but several basins in the southern part of the state saw less than 50% of normal conditions.

Even with April’s storms, the Weber Basin Water Conservation District has failed to add much storage to its reservoirs and will reduce the amount of water delivered to customers this season. The district plans to purchase 14,000 acre-feet of Deer Creek and an additional 5,000 acre-feet of Echo Water Stock on the Provo River to shore up supplies, according to a news release from the Division of Water Resources.

The water also failed to reach the Great Salt Lake. Last July, the lake’s elevation dropped to 4,191.3 feet above sea level, falling below a previous record set in 1963. The lake eventually sank to 4,190.2 feet in October, which is its current lowest point in recorded history. The lake currently sits at 4,191.1 feet and water managers expect it to drop another 2 feet over the summer, setting a new record.

In Ogden, Mayor Mike Caldwell on Wednesday signed a declaration of severe water shortages with several outdoor watering guidelines that are in effect until Nov. 1. Under the declaration, residents must wait to water the lawn until it shows visible signs of stress and irrigate only twice a year. the week.

The mayor further encouraged residents to reduce their water use by 10% this season, while commercial water customers should develop plans to reduce watering by 15%.

The impacts of the drought are also weighing on wildlife. There are about 100,000 fewer deer in Utah than the target population of 400,000, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources. As such, the Utah Wildlife Board voted late last month to issue fewer general-season deer permits.

“We’ve had several drought years and are still facing extreme drought conditions across the state, which is having a significant impact on deer survival rates,” the state’s big game coordinator said. , Covy Jones, in a press release.

Jones added that like water across the state, the demand for deer hunting exceeds supply.

Clarification • May 6, 12:20 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify when the Great Salt Lake reached its current record high.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake – and what that can be done to make a difference before it’s too late. Read all our stories on greatsaltlakenews.org.

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