Great Salt Lake boaters return as water rises more than 5 feet

Last year, marinas in the lake’s state parks were high and dry, but record snowfalls also lifted sailors’ spirits.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cranes lower boats into the water at Great Salt Lake Marina State Park, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

The boats are back and the sailors are excited.

Water at Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina has risen five feet since the lake hit a record low in November. Thanks to record-breaking snow cover and subsequent runoff, the area has grown by more than a foot in the last month alone. And lovers of salt lake sailing couldn’t be happier.

“It’s so nice to be back on the lake,” said Ogden resident Chase Burch, whose boat was lowered back into the berth as part of “Crane Day” on Tuesday.

“And,” he added, “it’s quite unexpected.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cranes lower boats into the water at Great Salt Lake Marina State Park, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

The marina’s last boats were pulled in August as the lake’s waters continued to drop to unprecedented levels. Salt flies, a foundation of the lake’s food web, have been eradicated. The rising salinity also threatened brine shrimp. The lakeside industries were struggling. Lawmakers scrambled to take action to reverse the lake’s decline, but there were no easy solutions.

“Everyone said, ‘It’s game over.’ “It was nice while it lasted,” Burch said.

Then the snow came. And kept coming back.

Burch said he looks forward to returning to the tranquility of the lake. Sailors don’t have to face the crowds seen at other lakes and reservoirs across Utah at the Great Salt Lake because the lake stretches for hundreds of square miles and its salty water tends to be too caustic for the metal parts of motor boats.

“It’s just this huge lake, and there’s hardly anyone out there,” he said. “You get a nice feeling of solitude and a bit of adventure.”

According to the Utah Division of State Parks, about 50 sailboats are now anchored at the Great Salt Lake Marina after the crane day. And there’s a surge of optimism that almost dried up when the lake hit its first record low in 2021 and then continued to shrink.

“Happy is putting it mildly,” said Devan Chavez, spokesman for the state park. “It really gave me joy to see where the water is in the marina today.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cranes lower boats into the water at Great Salt Lake Marina State Park, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

However, the lake is not clear, he warned. In order to reach a sustainable height and not raise any more toxic dust, it still has to be lifted about five feet. At least four of the boats stacked in the marina parking lot are too large to float at the current elevation of the lake. And only a fraction of the 320 berths in the park are occupied.

Antelope Island Marina, which has been bone dry for most of the past three years, barely has enough water for kayaks and paddleboards.

“But there’s some water in there,” Chavez said, “which is good news for us.”

The collapse of the Great Salt Lake is not a recent problem. State resource managers dredged the Great Salt Lake State Park marina several feet in 2016 to keep it operational. They plan to dredge it again for $4 million. Exact plans for the project have not yet been determined.

Meanwhile, the water-using habits that have caused the lake to sink to record lows remain largely unchanged.

The potential danger the lake still faces hasn’t escaped the notice of boaters like Burch.

“Just because we’ve had that one snowy year,” he said, “we probably won’t see another winter like this in the long run, so we have to conserve water to keep this going.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

This article is published by The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations dedicated to educating readers about the Great Salt Lake.

Justin Scaccy

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