GARDEN CITY, Rich County — Water watchers say low snowpack could lead to water levels at Bear Lake dropping by several feet, exposing more of the shore.
Garden City is a quiet town in April, as it's not the bustling tourist spot yet, but it's starting to gear up for the summer.
"The ice is gone, snow is about all gone," said Bill England, who owns a gift shop and two restaurants in Garden City. That means the season is over for winter enthusiasts, but England knows the summer visitors aren't far away.
"(There’s) nothing prettier than Bear Lake," England said. "They call it the Caribbean of the Rockies, and it really is."
But there could be less of a lake this summer than last. “Last year, we lost 5 ½ feet, and this year, we’ll probably lose 5 ½ again," said Claudia Cottle, co-executive of Bear Lake Watch.
Cottle said because of a low snowpack and a lot of that water going to fill another nearby reservoir, the levels at the lake will drop by several feet.
"Two years ago, with the water coming up 11 feet, we thought we were at the end of a drought cycle, and now it looks like we're back into the drought cycle," she said.
It may seem surprising with the amount of snow Utah has had in the valleys, but Cottle said that just hasn't been the case in the mountains.
“It's funny for people in the Salt Lake area, because there was a lot of snow, and people are doing a lot of shoveling, but they just didn't get the snow up into the levels that will be a good runoff,” she said. “There’s only a little bit of water coming in out of the Uintas.”
Right now, the water levels are actually fairly high, but by the summer are expected to drop by about 5 feet. That adds up to about 50 more yards of beach in some areas. Other areas can see four times that much. But more beach isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"If we get a little more beach, it gives more room for the general tourists that come up here to be able to enjoy Bear Lake," England said, “so it actually is a benefit to us in the summertime.”
He said the best time to be at Bear Lake is in July and August, when the water is warmer and the outside temperature is nice.
But it can mean trouble for boat owners at some private docks. And Cottle said her biggest concern is whether it's an indication of things to come.
"These things generally go in cycles," Cottle said. "So when we start down, often it's a fast slide. And that's not good for the ecology of the lake. It’s not good for our fishes. It’s hard for the sailing boats to get out of the harbor.”
But a little unpredictable weather could still change all that. For now, Cottle said farmers who use the water and hydrologists will be keeping a close watch as the summer heats up.
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