An ‘Environmental Nuclear Bomb’

The Great Salt Lake has made national news a few times lately, for unfortunate reasons. The drying of our famous lake is sparking conversation because it is increasingly stirring up dust, toxic metals, and chemicals from the exposed lake bed. As the lake shrinks and the lake bed dries, wind kicks up the dust and blows this toxic brew right into the lungs of local residents

The soil contains arsenic, antimony, copper, zirconium and other dangerous heavy metals, much of it residue from mining activity in the region. Most of the exposed soil is still protected by a hard crust. But as wind erodes the crust over time, those contaminants become airbornea NY Times piece says of the threats facing residents. 

Utah lawmakers are quoted in the article expressing their concern and understanding of the urgency needed. “The Great Salt Lake risks the same fate as California’s Owens Lake, which went dry decades ago, producing the worst levels of dust pollution in the United States and helping to turn the nearby community into a veritable ghost town,” Republican lawmaker Timothy D. Hawkes says in the article. The Great Salt Lake, however, is more than ten times the size of Owens Lake, dwarfing the former California lake as a source of dust.

If our lawmakers truly understand how serious the situation is, we need them to act on it, and fast. 

Potential solutions discussed in the Times article include smarter and more sustainable growth, as well as limiting our water intake. “Of major U.S. cities, Salt Lake has among the lowest per-gallon water rates, according to a 2017 federal report. It also consumes more water for residential use than other desert cities — 96 gallons per person per day last year, compared with 78 in Tucson and 77 in Los Angeles” the Times reports. The article also describes the experience of a Bluffdale resident, who was threatened with a fine for not watering his lawn, and two blocked bills that could have made a real impact in water conservation. 

With this increasing threat, Utah needs to take a serious look at our available resources before we embark on new projects and development. The Utah Inland Port has no plan to restrain water consumption, and touts a grandiose ability to help grow the Wasatch Front economy. We’ve seen other plans, like the one to build residential islands in Utah Lake, that also demonstrate a complete disregard for our limited resource availability. The Wasatch Front is faced with threats that extend even beyond public health. We also stand to lose our coveted title “greatest snow on Earth,” as dust blows and melts snow on our mountains faster. Worsening conditions for winter sports is more than just a bummer for local residents, but also a serious concern for the major local industry. The Great Salt Lake is also a critical ecosystem for ten million migrating birds who will suffer without it. 

Read the full NY Times article here.

Watch the CBS clip on the GSL.