(SALT LAKE CITY) — The southern portion of the Great Salt Lake in Utah has dropped to its lowest level ever, the U.S Geological Survey said Saturday. Lake levels have been declining for some time, but the record-breaking drought hitting the West has accelerated its fall in recent months.
Average daily water levels dropped about an inch below the previous record of 4,194 feet, set in 1963, with records dating back to 1847.
A series of images released by Utah’s Division of Water Resources showed the clear contrast between what the Great Salt Lake — the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere — looked like at its highest and average levels versus the new record low.
The drought numbers in Utah this year illustrate how dire the situation is there. The latest U.S Drought Monitor report released on Thursday shows nearly 100% of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions — level 3 out of 4.
To make matters worse, more than two-thirds of the state is now in an exceptional drought — the highest drought level. Just one year ago, there were no exceptional drought conditions reported in Utah.
The impacts of the relentless drought are far from over.
“Based on current trends and historical data, the USGS anticipates water levels may decline an additional foot over the next several months,” Ryan Rowland, data chief for the USGS Utah Water Science Center, said in a statement.
The USGS and Utah officials said they continue to closely monitor lake levels and the drought situation in the state as potential impacts could cascade through not only the state’s natural resources, but also through the economy.
“We must find ways to balance Utah’s growth with maintaining a healthy lake,” Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement.
“Ecological, environmental and economical balance can be found by working together as elected leaders, agencies, industry, stakeholders and citizens working together,” he added.
The Great Salt Lake is a major tourist destination, with over 1.14 million people visiting the lake’s three biggest state parks — Willard Bay, Antelope Island and Great Salt Lake — in 2018, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.
Drought conditions are only expected to get worse in the coming weeks with limited chances for widespread, significant rainfall.
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