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Low Water at Some State Parks Changes Summer Plans

Jennifer Pemberton

UPR  has been asking listeners how drought has impacted their lives. Low water levels at some lakes and reservoirs mean Utahns might have to adjust their summer recreation plans. Jennifer Pemberton has this report on the effect of drought on Utah’s state parks.

On one of the cooler days we’ve had this summer in Northern Utah, people are still enjoying the water at Hyrum State Park. The drought hasn’t fully reached Cache County yet, and there’s no bathtub ring around the reservoir at Hyrum like at Lake Powell. It’s full enough for all kinds of boating. People are water skiing, canoeing and trying out stand-up paddleboarding.

You’d have to work pretty hard to remind people here that this manmade lake wasn’t here purely for their enjoyment on a day like today, but when Ted Hallisey looks out at the water, he doesn’t just see a canvas for recreation. He sees water for drinking and growing food.

“Everyone loves to get out and recreate,” he says. “But when I talk to managers of the state parks and the rangers, they’ve made it clear that most of the state parks are designated as reservoirs are for agriculture first and some even send the water down for drinking water -- so those are priorities and recreation is the secondary benefit of those parks.”

Hallisey is better known as Cowboy Ted -- a name he got in a previous life when he was a rodeo announcer. Now he’s the host of Utah Skyline Recreation - a daily radio report on Utah State Parks. He’s been to 23 of the state’s 43 parks so far, where he interviews park managers and tells listeners what they can do and expect at each park.

Hallisey noticed this year that the water level at parks with lakes or reservoirs was becoming a critical part of his recreation reports:

“I talked to the manager and the assistant manager over at the Great Salt Lake marina and the harbormaster and they’ve already had to pull out several hundred sailboats that have those rudders that can’t make it through the canal that leads out of the marina.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature set aside $3 million to dredge the marinas at Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. Water levels were so low in those places before spring runoff that a lot of boats were on their way to being grounded. The bigger sailboats were already lifted out of theirs slips in April. The dredging would be for smaller sailboats and powerboats as water levels drop over the summer.

The managers at Willard Bay State Park told Hallisey that the water will be used up for irrigation, and by late summer powerboats probably won’t be able to launch from that marina either.

Hallisey lets listeners know about lake levels because it can change people’s summer plans.

“We’re trying to inform people of how much activity they can still do,” he says. Non-motorized activities probably won’t be affected. “A stand-up paddleboard or a kayak you can launch from pretty much anywhere…However, some of the boats are limited and the boats at Utah lake are going to be limited toward the end of the season.”

Cowboy Ted started the Utah Skyline Recreation report to encourage people -- especially kids -- to get outside and get active. He has a master’s degree in physical education and his foundation is geared toward teaching kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. But after visiting Utah’s state parks this summer, he’s shifted his focus to include water conservation.

He told me he’s not worried about drought in Utah, but that he wants to stay informed and help his listeners make informed decisions when they recreate.

“A lot of these state parks actually feed drinking water sources…It’s definitely a lifeline for everybody in Utah and with drought conditions it doesn’t take a big effort for us to do our part.”