The Great Salt Lake monster has turned into a pussy cat.

When hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey measured the lake's level Wednesday, they found it at the lowest point since Jan. 1, 1986 - only 4,208.95 feet above sea level. That's nearly 2 inches lower than it was a fortnight ago.Lee Case, district chief for the USGS Water Resources Division, Salt Lake City, said the lake has declined more than 7 inches since the seasonal peak, recorded Feb. 10.

"With the dry conditions we have, it's been ideal to lower" the lake, said William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the U.S. Weather Service's Salt Lake office. "Evaporation has been higher than normal, of course."

For the first two weeks of May, evaporation temperatures averaged 5.5 degrees higher than normal. The 30-day forecast is for abnormally hot and dry weather, which should further drop the lake.

The lake is so low that if the pumps of the West Desert pumping project were on, they'd almost be sucking air. But they aren't; operators turned them off earlier in the week to avoid damaging the expensive pumps.

AMAX Magnesium is paying for a three-month, $700,000 project to dredge the inlet canal so that the pumps will have deeper water to draw. AMAX wants water from the pumping project to keep feeding its new solar evaporation ponds near Knolls, Tooele County.