Heavy snow has helped Great Salt Lake, but conservation is still essential to saving it

Great Salt Lake is a cherished and crucial part of our local ecosystem. 

An unusually snowy winter has brought Great Salt Lake up a few feet from its record-breaking low. While we are happy to see levels rising, we’re hesitant to celebrate. We can’t rely on extreme weather patterns to save us from a man-made problem. 

Water conservation needs prioritization. The lake is still 6 feet below “the minimum acceptable elevation for the lake’s ecological and economic health,” according to a Washington Post article

Long term health of the lake still requires a shift in water management. Conservation groups have suggested buying water rights from farmers, changing local ordinances to encourage conservation-focused landscaping, and other such measures. 

“Historically, management of the Great Salt Lake watershed has prioritized human water usage over the health of the lake, with most of the river and stream water flowing toward the lake diverted for home, business and agricultural use. A February assessment by a team of Utah researchers and state officials found that 67 to 73 percent of the decline in water levels is due to natural and human water use,” the Washington Post article said. 

The article cites a 2019 report to the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council that stated “Further declines, particularly those over a long period, could result in losses totaling $1.69 billion to $2.17 billion per year and job losses of over 6,500 positions, as well as reductions in the quality of life for residents and visitors of Northern Utah.” 

The 2019 report breaks down the types of costs incurred by declining lake levels, and of course included health costs. “Increased dust and the resulting poor air quality are associated with a suite of adverse health effects that often affect sensitive populations the most, including children, the elderly, and people with existing health conditions. Great Salt Lake is already contributing to dust loads, the cost of which is estimated as $3.2 million to $13.6 million per year based on values from the literature on the cost of particulate matter pollution. With further declines in lake levels, the potential health costs from dust from Great Salt Lake could rise to between $6.6 million to $22.3 million per year.”

The Washington Post article.

The 2019 report.