SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Water levels are too low for some Great Salt Lake sensors

Nov 16, 2022, 9:00 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 12:53 pm

As the 2023 legislative sessions gets underway, Utah lawmakers are offering interesting ideas to ad...

FILE: Paddleboarders leave the water at the Great Salt Lake State Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 10, 2022. On Friday, it was announced that Congress is sending $10 million to Utah specifically to help the Great Salt Lake. The money is coming from the $858 billion defense bill. Photo credit: Laura Seitz/Deseret News.

Editorial note: This story has been edited from its original version to correct a factual error. We edited both the headline and the text below to reflect the correct information. Initially, we reported that the sensors that measure water levels at the Great Salt Lake were no longer functioning because of the shrinking water. This was a misinterpretation of what our source told us. We should have said one of the sensors can no longer provide real-time data because the water level has dropped below measurable levels in that location only — other sensors are still working, and the gauge itself continues to work properly. We apologize for the error. 

SALT LAKE CITY — The drought has presented some real challenges to anyone who follows the water levels at the Great Salt Lake, according to KSL Meteorologist Kevin Eubank.

Eubank says because of the rapidly decreasing water levels around the state, one of the sensors, located in the harbor at Great Salt Lake State Park, no longer provides real-time data on the elevation of the lake. 

Water levels at Great Salt Lake and elsewhere

Eubank explained the Great Salt Lake is not the only body of water where low water levels have affected measurements. That can affect not just information about depth but also temperature. 

“So generally during the summertime we are looking at all of our lakes and reservoirs,” Eubank said. “And we get good water temperatures because those sensors are placed in marinas or places that usually have water. But this year because the water levels dropped so low in so many locations, we didn’t get good water level readings and water temperature readings. Because those sensors became dysfunctional or nonfunctional because of the lack of water.”

Eubank says the Great Salt Lake is a good example of this. The Great Salt Lake is at an all-time low, registering 4,188.5 feet in elevation on Nov. 1, 2022. However, the water levels dropped below the gauge at Saltair earlier this fall, so the people who monitor lake levels started watching a different gauge on the lake’s south arm starting at the end of September. Ryan Rowland, data chief for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Utah Water Science Center, says the gauge will resume data reporting as spring runoff increases the lake level. 

Anyone interested can explore the lake’s real-time elevation data, salinity and other information in an interactive format on the U.S.G.S.’s Great Salt Lake website

Precipitation for the winter months

Eubank says the long-range forecast for the winter months into February has the potential to be dryer than normal for Utah.

“Now that doesn’t mean it is not going to snow, it’s not going to rain or it’s not going to get the precipitation,” he said. “But the models tend to forecast a lot like what’s been happening and that’s because it’s been so dry.”

Eubank thinks Utah will end up with a normal to slightly below-normal snow year.

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Water levels are too low for some Great Salt Lake sensors