Kyle Dunpey

(Utah News Dispatch) Don’t say it’s “healthy” yet — but the Great Salt Lake has a better outlook today than at any time in the last five years.

That’s according to Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed as he briefed reporters Wednesday on the status of the lake, which for years has been in decline. Now, with the state currently seeing an above-average snowpack on the heels of 2023’s historic winter, the lake has officials cautiously optimistic.

The south arm of the lake, which includes everything south of the railroad causeway that spans the lake near the Bear River delta, sits at about 4,194 feet. That’s roughly last year’s high point, which Steed said is cause for celebration because spring runoff still hasn’t started.

“We have snow conditions in the mountains that are above normal for this time of year so we’re sitting at a pretty good spot. We expect a healthy runoff to continue,” Steed said.

Current data shows Utah’s snow water equivalent — essentially how much water is currently in the state’s snowpack — at about 125% of what’s normal for this time of year. That’s a statewide average, though much of the Great Salt Lake Basin is also hovering around that 125% mark.

Some regions in southern Utah are seeing as much as 160% of the typical snow water equivalent for late March. And more snow is expected this week especially in northern Utah, according to the National Weather Service.

This slightly above-average snow year means more water will continue to make it to the Great Salt Lake. According to predictions from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, it’s expected to rise at least another foot, putting the elevation just above 4,195 feet. That’s a conservative estimate, according to Steed.

Steed said 4,195 feet is an important milestone, established by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands in a 2013 study that set thresholds indicating the lake’s health.

“It’s still not healthy, but it’s closer to healthy than we have been at any time really since 2019,” he said. “We identified 4,195 (feet) as something we should aim to get to in the shorter term. We’re really happy to get there this year.”

The lake’s historic average is around 4,196 to 4,200 feet, according to state data. Lake levels have been declining for years, exposing toxic, arsenic-laden dust that pollutes the air and can cause a number of diseases and health complications.

The north arm of the lake has a healthier outlook than years past, but not nearly like the southern section. That’s because the state intentionally raised the berm dividing the two regions last year in an effort to reduce the salinity conditions in the south arm, preventing some water from flowing into the north.

As a result, it currently sits at about 4,190 feet, about four feet below the south arm.

Across the state, the water outlook is good, officials said. Reservoirs around Utah are at above average levels while Utah Lake is just below 100% capacity. Reservoirs in the Great Salt Lake Basin like Pineview or Echo are releasing water to make room for the runoff that’s expected in the coming weeks.