Where are the brine flies and why does it matter?

An alarming report has found that the collapse of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem has already begun. Great Salt Lake brine flies have just about disappeared. They are an irreplaceable source of food for the ten million migrating birds that pass through. 

Great Salt Lake. Photo by Urvish Prajapati

The more frequently discussed and appreciated brine shrimp are also in trouble. Great Salt Lake’s brine shrimp industry is valued at $10 to $60 million, with 21 companies harvesting across the lake. While the usual swarm of brine flies along the lake isn’t typically discussed in a positive light, both the flies and the shrimp are crucial to the lake’s ecology. 

With the shrinking of the lake, the salinity has increased and disrupted the lake’s food web. Lowering lake levels exposed residents to toxic dust, and exposed the habitat brine flies needed underwater to metamorphosize

Faced with the glaring and immediate consequences of decades of exploitation and pressure from residents, lawmakers are forced to come up with strategies to raise the lake to a healthy level. While they are finally paying attention to the issue, we need to keep a careful eye on the on management policies because a number of counterproductive ideas have already been put on the table, such as the proposed US Magnesium canal expansion. Thanks to all who submitted a public comment in opposition to the proposal.  

Utah, and our lawmakers in particular, are in desperate need of a shift in their management of environmental and human health issues. Listening to scientists years ago and taking water conservation seriously could have saved us a serious headache, and probably millions of dollars.