Wasatch County’s runoff overflow is the Great Salt Lake’s gain
As the largest snowpack ever recorded in Utah threatens to overflow reservoirs in Wasatch County, the Great Salt Lake needs more water to survive. That has local water managers thinking outside the box.
In normal times, most water that flows through the Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs moves on to Utah Lake, then to consumers on the Wasatch Front.
But these are not normal times according to Jared Hansen. He’s the manager of the Central Utah Project, which oversees water flow at those reservoirs.
“It’s been an epic winter,” Hansen said.
For Central Utah Project staff, this means there’s far more water flowing in and far fewer options for where to store it than usual.
As snow melts and gushes into Heber Valley waterways, Hansen said the runoff would quickly overflow reservoirs if water managers took no action. That’s the main reason they expelled 50 million gallons of water out of Deer Creek Reservoir Tuesday and will continue to do so daily for the foreseeable future.
“The worst thing that can ever happen is to have the reservoir full when the water hits, and so then you just end up passing that entire flood as the water comes down,” Hansen said. “So, that's the last thing I ever want to have, is we end up with losing control of the river.”
He added that amount of water flowing out of Heber Valley reservoirs each day — 50 million gallons — is enough to supply 150 homes in Utah County for a year.
There’s more to the mass discharge than flood prevention.
Down river, Hansen said he believes Utah Lake will “come very close to filling, if not filling” up this spring. That’s unlike the Great Salt Lake, which reached a record-low level in 2022.
So, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, river masters and other officials from the Salt Lake Valley, state and federal offices decided to try something new with those 50 million gallons a day from Wasatch County.
They’re sending it straight to the Great Salt Lake. That path includes the Provo River in Provo Canyon, then an overflow drainage facility that dumps into the Jordan River. It’s not what that facility is designed for, but it’s working.
“With the Great Salt Lake being as low as it was, we knew with the record-breaking snowpack we can deliver this water through some pipes around Utah Lake and get that water to the Great Salt Lake a little sooner and a little more efficiently," Hansen said.
Central Utah Water plans to stop releasing water precisely when the runoff ends and simultaneously leave the reservoirs full.
The snowpack will also benefit Strawberry Reservoir, which dropped to low levels last year. Hansen expects it to fill more than 90%, a recovery that is rare for one single year.