High water levels raise flood concerns, improve recreation at Lake Powell, Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake

High water levels raise flood concerns, improve recreation at Lake Powell, Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake

(Cara MacDonald, KSL.com)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Precipitation in 2019 has been very high and winter snowpack is only just beginning to melt, thus bringing significant increases in water levels to lakes and reservoirs throughout Utah.

Lake Powell’s water levels are rising between 6 and 15 inches per day, the Great Salt Lake’s are significantly higher than normal for June, and Utah Lake is nearly full. High water has brought both delight and concern to locals and visitors, as outdoor recreation improves and flood risks increase.

Utah Lake

“The water levels at the lake are the highest I’ve seen in the last six years,” Josh Holt, manager of Utah Lake State Park, told KSL.com. “In some areas, we are probably about 12 inches from having the water (flood) into the park.”

A pretty severe windstorm earlier in June led to waves that reached 8 to 10 feet in height, eroding the park’s north jetty on the west end and causing significant damage, according to Holt. The park’s managers are preparing for the water levels to continue getting higher in order to prevent flooding and further damage.

“We want to be prepared in case the water does continue to come up, rather than scrambling around trying to stir things up before damage occurs,” Holt said. “Right now, we’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

The Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake, by contrast, is not a flooding concern and visitors are enjoying the higher water levels as they increase access to outdoor recreation on the lake.

“After last year’s disastrous year for snowpack, we have come up quite a bit this year,” said Dave Shearer, park manager at the Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina. “All the boats are able to get out of the marina, and it looks like they’ll be able to get out of the marina all year.”

Water levels are only a tenth of a foot higher this year in comparison to last year, Shearer explained. The main difference is how long the high water levels are lasting.

“(Water levels) usually start going down in about mid-May to early June, and here we are in mid-June and we’re still going up,” he said. “Last year, by the end of June, there were several boats trapped in the marina. This year, everyone is able to get out and they pretty much should be able to get out all year.”

Despite higher water levels, Shearer said park officials are not concerned in the slightest about flooding. “We’re still making up the deficit,” he explained. “It’ll probably take another two years, minimum, of the year we just had to make up for the difference. We’re still down 6 feet from our normal lake level.”

Lake Powell

Lake Powell, meanwhile, is experiencing water levels which rise between 6 and 15 inches every 24 hours, according to a Glen Canyon National Recreation Area press release. High water, which continues to rise, has presented safety risks that visitors need to be aware of.

Spring runoff debris on Lake Powell; National park Service Trash Tracker
Spring runoff debris on Lake Powell; National park Service Trash Tracker

Vehicles need to be parked 200 to 300 yards from the shoreline to keep from becoming submerged, as a foot of water rising vertically could cover 30-50 feet of horizontal land, according to the press release. Increasing water levels overnight could cause float toys and other objects left near shore to float away, and houseboaters need to check and reset anchors daily to pull lines tight.

“Inflow is carrying debris and boaters should be aware of pieces of branches that could be as large as full trees floating in the lake,” the release added. “This debris could damage lower units when struck. Uplake, there have been large, dead cottonwood trees floating downstream from Trachyte Canyon, Ticaboo Canyon and Good Hope Bay. These debris fields will continue downstream.”

As water levels are so different from past seasons, boaters are advised to maintain awareness that ordinary boat routes and GPS paths may not be safe at current levels, according to the press release.

Despite greater risks, the increase in water has brought a lot of benefits to the lake, according to the press release. In addition to the now-adequate water coverage at Bullfrog’s launch ramp, boaters are enjoying the higher water levels in their explorations.

“It’s a good year,” Shearer concluded. “Everybody is loving getting out and enjoying the lake.”

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Cara MacDonald enjoys both engaging in outdoor recreation and writing about it. Born and raised in Utah, Cara enjoys skiing, rock climbing, hiking and camping. She is passionate about both learning about and experiencing the outdoors, and helping others to learn about and explore nature. She primarily writes Outdoors articles centering around wildlife and nature, highlighting adventure opportunities, and sharing tips and tricks for outdoor recreation.


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