How the Great Salt Lake’s dropping water level is affecting a Utah bird refuge

Jul 7, 2022, 6:12 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2022, 10:25 am

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.

LAKETOWN, Utah – With the water in the Great Salt Lake at the lowest level ever, surrounding areas are also drying up.

One of those areas the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The rest stop for millions of birds has a lot more dry spots than it had in past decades.

The refuge sits on 80,000 acres and a lot of it is thirsty these days.

Managers said the refuge is very different from what it was 30 years ago and they’re getting a better picture of how that’s affecting bird populations at the popular attraction for birders.

“Oh definitely. This is a premier migratory bird stopover. We get millions of birds on any given day of the fall and the spring that come out here,” said Erin Holmes the project manager at the Bear River Migratory Refuge.

She said fewer birds are stopping at the wetlands as it loses water.

“People used to call it wings of thunder, because of what it would sound like.” Holmes said. “And we don’t have that now because we’re not able to provide that.”

Not that the refuge is ever going away, but with less water coming in from the Bear River, its water rights have delivered less water.

“The way we have to deal with it is, we have to be a little bit more selective about where we’re putting the water that we do have,” she explained.

The priority has been getting enough water into a 4,000-acre impoundment inside the Refugee’s auto tour loop.

It’s apparent some areas are drying up.


Holmes said there is a definite correlation between the amount of water and the number of birds in the refuge.

Researchers began work on a study to measure that impact in the Mountain West. The Audubon Society and Point Blue Conservation signed on to help with the study.

“It will be really interesting to see what that data is showing us,” said Holmes. “The difference between 30 years ago when the water situation was much different and now.”

About two-thirds of all the water coming into the Great Salt Lake comes from the Bear River.

Holmes says the refuge has sent part of its water allotment into the lake to avoid creating low-water areas that could attract avian botulism and invasive species.

As a feature of the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, readers are invited to take this survey to better inform the reporting in this initiative.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Great Salt Lake

(Saige Miller/KUER)...
Saige Miller, KUER

Utah agriculture wants more support and research to reach future water-saving goals

The Utah Legislature, the federal government and community members are all weighing in on how best to address the ongoing drought, but all eyes are on Utah’s agricultural industry to reduce its water usage.
6 days ago
Dan Spindle

‘Dust Lake City’ disaster looming as Utah professor fights to save the Great Salt Lake

It's clear how much the Great Salt Lake has shrunk over the years. But there is something in the air that's not so clear. KSL's Dan Spindle reveals the threats newly exposed dust and minerals at the lake pose to millions along the Wasatch Front.
7 days ago
Sprinklers water a Utah farmer's field. (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson

Gov. Cox releases water conservation plan for Utah’s biggest users – farmers

Governor Cox rolled out chapter three of his water conservation plan Wednesday which focused on water savings for Utah's agriculture industry.
19 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Sean Higgins, KUER 90.1

Critics say the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act pushes more study when action is what’s needed

SALT LAKE CITY — State leaders are optimistic federal legislation that could provide millions in funding to help the shrinking Great Salt Lake will have traction in Washington, but some water advocates in Utah are still not satisfied. The Great Salt Lake Recovery Act was introduced by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. Burgess Owens and Chris […]
20 days ago
Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune

Lawn gone: ‘Localscaping’ may save water, but can it rescue the Great Salt Lake?

The idea is catching on in cities as Utahns shift their thinking about landscaping. The trick is ensuring enough water trickles downstream.
20 days ago
A bird near the Great Salt Lake....
Mike Anderson & Michael Houck

Researchers are worried about metals in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem

"All of these metals are unfortunately very toxic," researchers look into how pollutants affect the Great Salt Lake and the environment around it.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
How the Great Salt Lake’s dropping water level is affecting a Utah bird refuge