Utah: Promising rainfall and the fight to save Great Salt Lake

Utah scenery, with clouds portending possible rainfall
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September 21, 2023 — According to a recent update from the Utah Department of Natural ResourcesOpens in a new tab., monsoonal moisture has been a great relief for the state’s water demands. Even though the seasonal rainfall has not made a huge difference in reservoir levels, it has eased the strain on Utah’s water resources.

Candice Hasenyager, the director of the Division of Water Resources, mentioned, “Nature plays an important role in our quest for resiliency, and reducing demand is the one lever we have to pull to secure our water future.” With evaporative demand being unusually high for the past summers, the last three months have shown a decrease, especially in the western half of Utah. This means residents needed less water for their lawns and plants, leading to significant water savings, given that about 60% of residential water use is for outdoor purposes.

State reservoirs are at a promising 77% storage, up from last year’s 45%. This is better than the usual 57% around this time of year. Less evaporation from these reservoirs and decreased human consumption due to lesser evaporative demand has contributed to this. A telling statistic is the 8% drop in reservoirs since July, while usually, they reduce by about 15%.

Another positive note is the rise in Great Salt Lake levelsOpens in a new tab., which are 5.5 feet above last year’s record lows. This has also improved the lake’s salinity. However, with incoming warmer temperatures, the lake levels are anticipated to decline until cooler months bring increased precipitation.

As the state transitions to the next season, Utah encourages water conservation among residents.  The Department of Natural Resources continues to promote initiatives such as the Agricultural Optimization ProgramOpens in a new tab. for farmers and SlowtheFlow.orgOpens in a new tab. for residents. These programs aim to educate and incentivize water-saving practices, ensuring Utahns become more drought resilient and prepare for future conditions.

The Benefits of Monsoonal Rainfall on Reservoirs.

According to the State Department of Natural Resources, the monsoon rains deliver the following benefits:

  1. Increased Inflows: Short bursts of rainfall can cause an immediate surge in water inflow to reservoirs.
  2. Improved Water Quality: These rains can dilute pollutants and reduce sediment buildup in reservoirs.
  3. Reduced Irrigation Demand: Rainfall means less need for irrigation, conserving reservoir water.
  4. Supporting Ecosystems: Monsoon rains can create crucial habitats for fish and other aquatic beings.
  5. Flood Risk Management: Monitoring and managing reservoir levels during monsoons prevent potential flooding.
  6. Water Supply Planning: Monsoon moisture helps water managers assess conditions and plan for future water needs.

The Cost of Ignoring the Great Salt Lake.

A report from Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 News revealed that the Utah State Legislature’s Auditor General discovered that mitigating dust from the receding Great Salt Lake could come with a hefty price tag of more than a billion dollars. A particular concern is “dust mitigation” from the exposed lakebed, which might cost taxpayers a staggering $1.5 billion, with an annual maintenance cost of $15 million. These expenses could rise even more if the affected area increases.

Leonardo DiCaprio Urges Fans to Save the Great Salt Lake.

Drawing international attention to the plight of the Great Salt Lake, Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprioOpens in a new tab. recently called on his fans to sign a petition aimed at the protection and restoration of the lake. He highlighted the risks posed by the declining lake levels to millions of migrating birds and the danger of toxic dust from the dried lakebed.

Backing a group of environmental organizations suing the State of Utah for their alleged “failures” to safeguard the lake, DiCaprio pointed out that diverting water upstream is causing this depletion.

In a strong endorsement, DiCaprio quoted Zach Frankel from the Utah Rivers Council, emphasizing the urgency and accountability required from officials to reverse the situation. The Sierra Club, along with other organizations, continues to fight for the lake’s protection and urges the public to be active participants in this vital cause.

Challenges Remain.

In conclusion, while recent monsoonal moisture has brought relief, the ongoing battle for Utah’s water resources and the Great Salt Lake remains at the forefront of environmental concerns in the region. The importance of community engagement, awareness, and stringent policy actions have been stressed by numerous stakeholders.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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Laura Bove
Laura Bove
September 25, 2023 5:31 pm
I hope the lake breathes a sigh of relief as the summer ends and we move into autumn and winter. I like the feeling of ease that came over me as I read this article. The water situation is so much worse and more complex than I ever had imagined. I am new to all of this and continue to be fascinated, horrified and amazed at what it takes to manage water and all that it affects.

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