Great Salt Lake
There is no painless solution to this dilemma. But the state must curb enough water use to save the lake, because letting it disappear is the worst possible outcome for, by far, the greatest number of people. We expect the courts will see it that way too.Dr. Brian Moench, Why we are suing to save Great Salt Lake
Watch the 2023 People’s Great Salt Lake Summit plenary session below!
In 2021 and 2022, Great Salt Lake broke records for its lowest record level. As of January 2023, the lake currently sits about 10 feet lower than its minimum healthy elevation.
Great Salt Lake has a unique ecosystem that has already begun to collapse. The lake plays a vital role in the quality of life and standard of living Utahns, Wasatch Front residents in particular, have structured our society around.
Despite recent snow storms, the shrinking of the lake will only continue without abrupt changes in public policy that will allow more water to reach the lake. To save the lake we need wholesale changes in water law, how we pay for water, and comprehensive measures to decrease water use. In short the legislature needs to know the public demands that they get serious about saving the lake.
The issues it poses:
Air Quality – A Washington Post article reported in January 2023 that there is “more than 800 square miles of sediments laced with arsenic, mercury and other dangerous substances, which can be picked up by wind and blown into the lungs of some 2.5 million people living near the lakeshore.”
Industry/Economy – Declining levels have a huge impact on local industries that depend on Great Salt Lake. The brine shrimp harvest industry brings $10-60 million to the economy alone.
An industry near and dear to so many Wasatch Fronters’ hearts that could be severely impacted as well is the snow sport industry. The Wasatch mountain snow pack is highly connected to water levels in the lake.
The state is sure to face increased economic costs related to the effect the hazardous exposed lake bed has on public health as well.
Ecosystem – Less freshwater feeding into the lake increases the salinity. Although salt is part of what makes the lake unique, the levels are off balance without enough water. This threatens the ecosystem, threatens the brine flies and shrimp, which feed 10 million birds that count on the lake as a resting point in their migration.
Factors contributing to the decline of the lake:
- Climate Change – Utah, along with the rest of the south west is experiencing the worst drought in 1200 years. On April 21, 2022, with 99.39% of the state experiencing severe drought, Governor Cox issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency. This occurred in the spring of 2021 as well. The Utah legislature has been resistant to accepting climate change and making the necessary changes. They instead, have made moves to increase fossil fuel extraction throughout the state.
- Agriculture, mainly the farming of alfalfa – Alfalfa farming represents 0.2% of the Utah economy but uses 68% of available water. Nearly 1/3 of alfalfa grown in Utah is exported to China.
- Mining – large amounts of water are used at mines and gravel pits, like Point of the Mountain to suppress dust. This is part of the reason UPHE was opposed to the controversial mine proposed for Parley’s Canyon.
- Business/personal overuse – Utah has some of the highest water usage per capita rates in the west. Outdated local ordinances on lawns and water conservation have made it difficult for residents to make necessary changes. Thanks to public pressure, this is changing.
Potential solutions/ways you can help
- Utah water laws need to be updated – policies like “use it or lose it” contribute to water waste. Advocate for these changes by calling and writing local and state legislators to update policies and take meaningful action.
- Advocate for buying out water intensive alfalfa farms.
- Make pubic comments and call legislators about projects that don’t promote water conservation. Like new mines, and large industrial development.
- Cut down/cut out meat. Alfalfa and animal agriculture account for the majority of Utah’s water usage.
- Flip your strip – Removing lawn from your park strip will save an estimated 5,000-8,000 gallons of water each year—and you can get cash for doing it.
Nanoparticles of dust have potential to cause just as much harm if they come from dry lake bed as from a tailpipe or a smokestack. It’s a bona fide, documented, unquestionable health hazardDr. Brian Moench, Great Salt Lake on track to disappear in five years, scientists warn Washington Post
The dreary state of our Great Salt Lake is a boon for window washers. After each cold front and rainstorm comes windows covered with little grey spots – each raindrop is covered in the dust from the Great Salt Lake. I have lived in Salt Lake City for almost 40 years, and have been happily looking out my windows for that long, but the dust drops in the recent years are a reminder of the condition of the lake.Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, Dust in the rain
Sacrificing our air, water, public health and quality of life for business profit and relentless pursuit of the myth that population growth is inevitable, sacrosanct and can continue indefinitely are essentially codified into state law. The disconnect between state law and our limits to growth has never been more stark.Dr. Brian Moench, Utah lawmakers may yet emerge from their environmental comas, Salt Lake Tribune