Yet another lake in the Western U.S. drops to record-low water levels
The water level in the southern portion of Utah's Great Salt Lake has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded, and experts say conditions at the largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere will continue to decline as extreme drought suffocates almost the entire state.
The U.S. Geological Survey announced Saturday that the average daily water level has fallen about an inch below the previous record of 4,191.4 feet above sea level recorded in 1963. The agency's records of the Great Salt Lake surveys are from 1847.
The water level of the Great Salt Lake has gradually decreased, but the recent decline was made worse by the mega-drought in the western United States.
According to the latest report by the US Drought Monitor released on Thursday, more than 99 percent of Utah is in "extreme" drought conditions. Almost 70 percent of the state is experiencing “exceptional” droughts, the highest category.
"It's worrying that the Great Salt Lake has been slowly receding, but the drought has accelerated that decline," said Candice Hasenyager, assistant director of Utah's water resources division. "It's really alarming."
The lake's typical dry season, which usually lasts from June to autumn, still lasts for months. It's likely that water levels will continue to sink, said Ryan Rowland, chief of data for the U.S. Water Science Center's Utah. Geological Survey.
"We think we could drop another foot to a foot and a half," said Rowland.
Human activity has been the major contributor to the decline in the lake's water table, with increased water use for agriculture, mineral extraction, and helping the community and industrial sectors all playing a role, Hasenyager said.
The water level of the Great Salt Lake has changed throughout history, but climate change changes the total amount of water that flows into it. Higher temperatures as a result of global warming reduce the volume of the snowpack and change the precipitation pattern.
"This is what climate scientists have predicted that we would see more extremes and higher temperatures," said Hasenyager. "And we see that."
Last month, water levels at Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada, the largest reservoir in the country, hit their lowest level in history, another event made worse by the drought.
Although the Great Salt Lake does not provide the region with critical water supplies or electricity, its falling water levels could have worrying knock-on effects, she said.
"If the lake continues to dry out, it could lead to habitat loss, less snow, decreased access to the lake, increased dust that could degrade our air quality, increased salinity - there are many far-reaching consequences," said Hasenyager.
And because the Great Salt Lake is relatively shallow, its water level can mean significant changes to the shores of the lake and the entire base area.
"A drop in lake level exposes much of the lake floor to the atmosphere and the lake's circumference shrinks significantly," Rowland said. "So even small changes in the water level can mean quite large changes in the surface of the lake."
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