Great Salt Lake Summit emphasizes one snow-heavy winter won’t be enough

Nearly three hundred concerned residents attended the People’s Great Salt Lake Summit last Saturday. It truly was a day of information, inspiration and action. UPHE co-sponsored the event, along with other environmental and community groups.

Bonnie Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute, provided an update on the lake’s current conditions. The south arm of the lake, which has a more vibrant ecosystem, has seen a rise in water levels due to inflow from a historic snowpack. However, the north arm of the lake has only risen about a foot, indicating a significant imbalance. Baxter emphasized the need to protect the lake despite short-term improvements, as future conditions are unlikely to conserve water naturally. 

The Utah legislature modeled a complacency that could be detrimental to the health of the lake and the many residents surrounding it at the end of the last legislative session. They put a pause on a number of initiatives to improve lake health after seeing a heavy snowfall late in the season that helped raise levels. Lake levels are far from safe, though. Baxter expressed that we would need 11 equally impressive snowfalls to get the lake back on track

Temperature predictions indicate that the Wasatch Front will experience more rain and less snow, which will not adequately replenish the water bodies. The summit also highlighted the impacts of the lake’s shrinkage on air pollution and public health. Dust storms from the lake contain harmful substances that can cause diseases and reduce life expectancy. These problems will disproportionately affect areas closer to the lake, which are often sacrifice zones hosting industrial activities and polluting sources.

UPHE’s Dr. Brian Moench spoke on increased dust pollution from the lake at the summit’s plenary, “About 15 years ago, we didn’t really have any dust storms from the Great Salt Lake, but now we’re having about 15 a year. And this is what we’re really worried about when it comes to what’s going to happen with the Great Salt Lake.”

Dr. Moench also co-led a session on pesticide use along the lake and how it can affect human health and birth outcomes with UPHE board member Dr. Kirtly Jones.