By Bremen Leak
During the ice age, Lake Bonneville covered half the state, submerging present-day Provo in almost a thousand feet of water.
Today, drought has dropped Utah Lake”s average water level to 10 feet and falling, spurning boaters, threatening fish and shorebirds and dawning slews of mosquitoes.
“Things were quite different then than they are now,” said Brooks B. Britt, a geology professor at BYU.
Brooks said the freshwater lake covered 20,000 square miles in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, extending its shores all the way to the upper parking lot of Y Mountain. “Property values would have been a heck of a lot higher back then, wouldn”t they,” he said.
But remainders of the ancient lake, today”s Utah Lake and Salt Lake, continue to recede because of drought.
“Every year the drought has brought fewer visitors because we haven”t had as much water,” said Peggy Hurd, a worker at Utah Lake State Park. Park officials said the water level is four feet below normal and is expected to fall another three feet.
The drought is a result of high temperatures in early spring that vaporize snowmelt normally found in lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
The state is entering its sixth year of drought and may see up to four more years before water levels return to normal. Experts are calling this the worst drought in Utah since the 1930s.
“It looks to be a one-in-a-hundred-years event, one that I don”t particularly want to see again,” said Randy Julander of the Utah Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Julander said 80 percent to 90 percent of consumer water supplies come from melting snow. But this year the water is just not there, he said.
“Right now, streams should be at their peak flows,” he said. “They should be ripping and running. We should be issuing warnings that little kiddies and parents don”t go wading in the rivers, because you”ll get sucked down and smashed to pieces
But the only threat the river poses is to the fish being caught by fly fishers in the shallow, sedate water.
Julander estimates the Provo River is currently running at 36 percent of average, compared with the Weber River at 35 percent and the Duchesne River at 6 percent.
Low rivers mean low lake levels, prompting lake officials to excavate marina bottoms so boat traffic can continue. Water levels in the marina were at a low 3 feet to 5 feet over the busy Memorial Day weekend.
“It”s a very complex system that brings a lot of water from a lot of different places to the Wasatch Front,” Julander said. “If we had to rely strictly on the water that came down to the Wasatch Front, we”d have been in trouble years and years and years ago.”
Britt said Utah was home to many now-extinct animals whose existence has dried up with the lake.
“We”ve got a museum full of woolly mammoths and other animals that lived at the time the lake was around,” he said.
His guess is that, like other ancient lakes, Utah Lake will come and go.