Listen: What we lose if the Great Salt Lake dries up

Utah has gained a national spotlight through the depletion of one of our most precious natural resources, Great Salt Lake. The national attention has helped Great Salt Lake gain $25 million in federal funding for research, and widespread public awareness and demand for action.  

NPR’s podcast, Shortwave, recently published a segment covering issues with the lake. 

UPHE’s Dr. Moench was quoted in the segment, “A lot of people think that dust is pretty benign because it’s, quote, “natural.” Well, that’s not the case. And in the case of dust from the Great Salt Lake, it is particularly toxic because we know that it’s laced with high concentrations of heavy metals.”

NPR correspondent Kirk Siegler said on the podcast, “They’re (saline lakes) very important for migrating birds at the top of the food chain. And so when Carly Biedul is out there looking for larva at the bottom of the food chain, that’s an indicator of a potential ecological collapse. And I’m not being dramatic. These lakes occur in the Great Basin from Utah to Nevada, across to eastern California, even in parts of Oregon, as you say. There’s this huge geological anomaly. And a lot of these lakes have dried up over time. Some naturally, but a lot due to water diversions. Utah’s Wasatch Front, where the majority of the state’s population lives along Salt Lake City, is one of the fastest-growing places in the country. So water is in high demand. But also, just like across the West, most of the water being diverted out of the rivers that would be going to the Great Salt Lake are being diverted for farming and, in particular in Northern Utah, alfalfa farming in the high desert.”

We’ve heard time and time again from news correspondents, scientists doing hands-on field work and researchers the risks we face if we don’t get water to the lake One recent appeal for water to the lake comes from Utah writer, Terry Tempest Williams, in her New York Times op-ed. “The retreat of Great Salt Lake is not a singular story. Death is what happened to vast stretches of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan by the late 2010s, now seen as one of the planet’s largest environmental disasters. Pick your place anywhere in the world and Great Salt Lake is a mirror reflecting a flashing light on what is coming and what is already here. Our natural touchstones of joy will deliver us to heartbreak. Each of us will face the losses of the places that brought us to life.

She goes on to describe the lake’s religious importance to Mormon history in the region. 

Click here for Terry Tempest Williams’ op-ed in the New York Times.

Click here to listen to NPR’s Shortwave episode on Great Salt Lake.