More potential health effects of not getting water to Great Salt Lake

The health consequences of allowing Great Salt Lake to dry up have been covered quite extensively at this point by many major state and national news outlets. They’ve covered headaches, eye irritation, sinus problems, wheezing, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung spasms, effects on mental health, asthma, fungal infections, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

A new sample of neurotoxins taken by scientists caused major concern about another potential consequence. “Dr. Sandra Banack, senior scientist at Brain Chemistry Labs… said the toxins in a nonhuman primate can trigger the neuropathology of Alzheimer’s disease and ALS. She and her colleagues are concerned about what an exposed lake bed means when wind picks up the toxins and people breathe them in,” a Fox13 article reports. 

More research needs to be done. We recommend an epidemiologic study of the rate of ALS along the Wasatch Front be conducted to see, if in fact, there is an otherwise inexplicable high rate of ALS here. 

The long list of health effects of a dying Great Salt Lake are all reasons that Utah’s number one priority needs to be getting water to the lake. The Wasatch Front already has elevated levels of many health issues due to poor air quality, regardless of the lake’s recent contributions. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article headline reads, “Wasatch Front air pollution triggers more heart attacks in winter, more unstable chest pain in summer, study finds.”

Last week, UPHE’s Dr. Brian Moench gave a presentation with Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council, at the 2023 Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium. Our presentation hoped to shed some optimism and realism on the situation, noting that there are very viable solutions the legislature can turn to to get water to the lake. 

Frankel referenced the 4,200 Project, a plan from the Utah Rivers Council, that delineates what Utah lawmakers need to do to get the Great Salt Lake to 4,200 feet above sea level. Another proposal is allowing those who hold water rights — from individuals to conservation groups — to commit their water to the Great Salt Lake on their own, without having to go through state agencies first, a key distinction because if transferred to a state agency they can divert the water elsewhere later on.

Frankel also said that Utah’s Agricultural Water Optimization Program isn’t serving its purpose. “This is the question. Are we more interested in placating all of the interests that are making money diverting upstream water from the Great Salt Lake, or are we more interested in saving the Great Salt Lake? We simply cannot do both,” Frankel was quoted in a Tribune article covering the Symposium.