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Low water in Utah challenging boaters' holiday weekend plans

People put a jet ski in the water next to a boat ramp that is closed and has an abrupt drop-off due to low water at the
Willard Bay North Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday, July 19, 2021.

People put a jet ski in the water next to a boat ramp that is closed and has an abrupt drop-off due to low water at the Willard Bay North Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Water levels at Lake Powell have declined so much that multiple boat ramps are closed and owners of houseboats have until Saturday to remove their vessels from the Wahweap Main site, which is now closed to launching any houseboats.

At Wahweap Main, motorized vessels can be still be launched, but officials are advising that only four-wheel drive vehicles be used because other vehicles are experiencing difficulties on the loose gravel.

Would-be water recreationers should check out the National Park Service's website for Lake Powell to get information on current ramp closures.

"It's rough," said Kendall Neisess, acting public information officer. "It's ruining a lot of people's plans, for sure."

She added it may be that the Wahweap Main boat launch will have to close sometime in August.

Bullfrog remains open for houseboats.

Signs warn boaters of low water at the Willard Bay
South Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday, July 19,
2021.
Signs warn boaters of low water at the Willard Bay South Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Elsewhere around Utah, the protracted drought has forced the closure of boat ramps at seven Utah state parks. Both ramps at Willard Bay are closed. Millsite Reservoir in Emery County is closed, as is the Antelope Island Main Ramp, Echo's Main Ramp, Piute's Main Ramp and Painted Rocks at Yuba. Oasis' ramp at Yuba remains open.

At Weber County's Pineview, the Anderson Cove launch site has also been closed due to low water levels.

Multiple other launching sites in the state park system are under an advisory, which means boaters should exercise extreme caution when launching.

Those include: Red Fleet, Rockport, Rock Cliff at Jordanelle, Gunlock's Main Ramp in Washington County, the Great Salt Lake Marina's Main Ramp and Rendezvous Beach at Bear Lake.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources reported last week that 26 of Utah's largest 42 reservoirs are below 55% of their capacity and some of the state's most popular recreation hot spots such as Willard, Strawberry, Deer Creek and Pineview are at storage levels below where they were at the end of last year's irrigation season.

State water managers are no longer using water from this year's runoff season but are instead dipping into emergency supplies left over from previous years.

On Tuesday, the Utah Division of Water Resources announced in a tweet that the Great Salt Lake had tied the record low set in 1963, and it is expected to drop below that level in the coming days. Great Salt Lake elevation has tied the record low set in 1963. It's expected to drop below the record in the coming days.

Devan Chavez, spokesman for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, said he couldn't recall a year with so many boat ramp closures and reservoir conditions as low as they are.

"Especially this early in the season, the water levels we are seeing right now are what we saw at the end of last year's irrigation season," he said.

Chavez said people should still get out and visit state parks, but they need be mindful of conditions and investigate in advance.

"Check before you go. It is not a swimming pool. The conditions won't be the same every time you go," he said. "We don't want anyone to show up at state park and not be able to launch their boat. We don't want anyone to be surprised."

A boat is pulled from the water next to a boat ramp
that is closed and has an abrupt drop-off due to low water at the
Willard Bay North Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday,
July 19, 2021.
A boat is pulled from the water next to a boat ramp that is closed and has an abrupt drop-off due to low water at the Willard Bay North Marina in Willard, Box Elder County, on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Chavez also warned that with the ramp closures, available boating locations are likely to be more crowded, especially given the upcoming holiday weekend, and boaters should be prepared to make alternative choices or to embrace patience.

In addition, low reservoirs expose boaters to potential hazards that merit extra caution, Chavez emphasized.

"There might be more navigation hazards that you are not used to."

For the latest information on boat ramp closures, boating hopefuls can go to the division's website and Chavez also recommended checking out specific parks' information on their Facebook pages.

Utah boaters should still be able to enjoy the holiday weekend, but Chavez said it has been a tough year due to the drought.

"This is for sure one for the books," he said. "This is a year I hope we don't see again."

A sign warns boaters of low water and a boat ramp that
has a steep drop-off at Lindon Marina in Vineyard on Monday, July
19, 2021.
A sign warns boaters of low water and a boat ramp that has a steep drop-off at Lindon Marina in Vineyard on Monday, July 19, 2021. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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