Sugar House resident Rick Hoffman spent several hours Tuesday morning readying his sailboat for launch at the Great Salt Lake Marina.
In the coming weeks, Hoffman plans to travel along Canada’s Pacific coast up to Alaska. But before embarking on that trip, Hoffman said, he needs to learn the ropes of a new vessel.
“I never got to sail it when I bought it,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman might not have gotten to sail this week either, if not for a heavy winter and cold, wet spring that has sent water levels soaring in Utah’s rivers, reservoirs and lakes.
Dave Shearer, Great Salt Lake State Park manager, said the water level at the lake is currently up roughly 2½ feet over last year, with the potential to gain another foot. Those conditions have opened up opportunities for recreation, he said, reversing years of downward water trends and a “disastrous” 2018 that left the launch ramp at Antelope Island “almost useless.”
“The launch ramp here [at the marina] was only useful for the shallowest-draft boats,” Shearer said. “Now, anybody can launch.”
Shearer said the Great Salt Lake waterline is rising at a rate of roughly 2 inches per week. In typical years, he said, the lake begins to recede in mid-May as waning snowmelt loses out to evaporation and hotter temperatures.
This year, he said, continued rain and cold have left a “ridiculous” amount of snowpack in the mountains that still has to make its way down to the valleys.
“We’re not going to see the lake drop until July,” Shearer said.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a flood watch advisory for the Duchesne River near Myton, citing high levels of spring runoff. And a weather service map of the state showed the entire eastern border of Utah in varying levels of flood advisory status from Vernal to Bluff.
In southern Utah, high water in Lake Powell has allowed full access to the Bullfrog launch ramp, and the Antelope Point Marina is expected to reopen after adjustments are made by the National Park Service.
But a news release announcing those ramp openings also carried a warning that Lake Powell’s waterline is climbing between 6 and 15 inches every day, and that boaters and visitors should park their vehicles 200 to 300 yards away from the shore, lest they become submerged overnight.
“Depending on the grade of land, a foot of water rising vertically will cover approximately 30 to 50 feet of land horizontally,” the park service release states. “Additionally, boaters need to be aware of rising water levels overnight that will cause float toys and other objects left too close to shore to float away. Houseboat users will have to check and possibly reset their anchors each day to pull slack lines tight.”
The release also warns that inflowing water is carrying debris to the lake, like pieces of branches and in some areas large, dead cottonwood trees.
“Water levels are significantly different than past seasons,” the release states, “so commonly known boating paths and saved GPS routes may not be safe with current lake levels.”
Shearer said he expects the Great Salt Lake to have a net-positive year, holding a higher waterline through the summer season. While there have been other years of increased volume, the lake has generally seen its water level decline over the last 20 years and its footprint has shrunk by half since the arrival of Mormon settlers in 1847.
And while Shearer said the lake level will continue to increase into July, he said the 2-inches-per-week rate will start to decrease.
“The snow is coming down rapidly,” he said, “but evaporation is going to start increasing.”