The Great Salt Lake is drying up. Here's why that matters. - CSMonitor.com

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  kavika  •  2 weeks ago  •  22 comments

By:   McKenzie Skiles (The Christian Science Monitor)

The Great Salt Lake is drying up. Here's why that matters. - CSMonitor.com
One of the largest natural lakes in the U.S. is set to hit a 170-year low this year, and drought will only make matters worse. As the Great Salt Lake shrivels, it's taking a toll on local wildlife, businesses, and air quality.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Rick Bowmer/AP The Great Salt Lake, seen here receding from Antelope Island, near Salt Lake City, on May 4, 2021, has been shrinking for decades. The drying lake has already begun to affect the region's native pelicans as the West faces a sweltering heatwave.

July 6, 2021

  • By Lindsay WhitehurstAssociated Press

Salt Lake City

The silvery blue waters of the Great Salt Lake sprawl across the Utah desert, having covered an area nearly the size of Delaware for much of history. For years, though, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River has been shrinking. And a drought gripping the American West could make this year the worst yet.

The receding water is already affecting the nesting spot of pelicans that are among the millions of birds dependent on the lake. Sailboats have been hoisted out of the water to keep them from getting stuck in the mud. More dry lakebed getting exposed could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.

"A lot us have been talking about the lake as flatlining," said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake.

The lake's levels are expected to hit a 170-year low this year. It comes as the drought has the U.S. West bracing for a brutal wildfire season and coping with already low reservoirs. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, has begged people to cut back on lawn watering and "pray for rain."

For the Great Salt Lake, though, it is only the latest challenge. People for years have been diverting water from rivers that flow into the lake to water crops and supply homes. Because the lake is shallow - about 35 feet at its deepest point - less water quickly translates to receding shorelines.

The water that remains stretches across a chunk of northern Utah, with highways on one end and remote land on the other. A resort - long since closed - once drew sunbathers who would float like corks in the extra salty waters. Picnic tables once a quick stroll from the shore are now a 10-minute walk away.

Robert Atkinson, 91, remembers that resort and the feeling of weightlessness in the water. When he returned this year to fly over the lake in a motorized paraglider, he found it changed.

"It's much shallower than I would have expected it to be," he said.

The waves have been replaced by dry, gravelly lakebed that's grown to 750 square miles. Winds can whip up dust from the dry lakebed that is laced with naturally occurring arsenic, said Kevin Perry, a University of Utah atmospheric scientist.

It blows through a region that already has some of the dirtiest wintertime air in the country because of seasonal geographic conditions that trap pollution between the mountains.

Mr. Perry warns of what happened at California's Owens Lake, which was pumped dry to feed thirsty Los Angeles and created a dust bowl that cost millions of dollars to tamp down. The Great Salt Lake is much larger and closer to a populated area, Mr. Perry said.

Luckily, much of the bed of Utah's giant lake has a crust that makes it tougher for dust to blow. Mr. Perry is researching how long the protective crust will last and how dangerous the soil's arsenic might be to people.

This year is primed to be especially bleak. Utah is one of the driest states in the country, and most of its water comes from snowfall. The snowpack was below normal last winter and the soil was dry, meaning much of the melted snow that flowed down the mountains soaked into the ground.

Most years, the Great Salt Lake gains up to 2 feet from spring runoff. This year, it was just 6 inches, Mr. Perry said.

"We've never had an April lake level that was as low as it was this year," he said.

More exposed lakebed also means more people have ventured onto the crust, including off-road vehicles that damage it, Great Salt Lake coordinator Laura Vernon said.

"The more continued drought we have, the more of the salt crust will be weathered and more dust will become airborne because there's less of that protective crust layer," she said.

The swirling dust also could speed the melting of Utah's snow, according to research by McKenzie Skiles, a snow hydrologist at the University of Utah. Her study showed that dust from one storm made the snow so much darker that it melted a week earlier than expected. While much of that dust came from other sources, an expansion of dry lakebed raises concerns about changes to the state's billion-dollar ski industry.

"No one wants to ski dirty snow," she said.

While the lake's vast waters are too salty for most creatures except brine shrimp, for sailors like Marilyn Ross, it's a tranquil paradise with panoramas of distant peaks.

"You get out on this lake and it's better than going to a psychiatrist, it's really very calming," she said.

But this year, the little red boat named Promiscuous that she and her husband have sailed for more than 20 years was hoisted out of the water with a massive crane just as the season got underway. Record-low lake levels were expected to leave the boats stuck in the mud rather than skimming the waves. Low water has kept the other main marina closed for years.

"Some people don't think that we're ever going to be able to get back in," Ms. Ross said.

Brine shrimp support a $57 million fish food industry in Utah but in the coming years, less water could make the salinity too great for even those tiny creatures to survive.

"We're really coming to a critical time for the Great Salt Lake," said Jaimi Butler, coordinator for Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She studies the American white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America.

They flock to Gunnison Island, a remote outpost in the lake where up to 20% of the bird's population nests, with male and female birds cooperating to have one watch the eggs at all times.

"Mom goes fishing and dad stays at the nest," Ms. Butler said.

But the falling lake levels have exposed a land bridge to the island, allowing foxes and coyotes to come across and hunt for rodents and other food. The activity frightens the shy birds accustomed to a quiet place to raise their young, so they flee the nests, leaving the eggs and baby birds to be eaten by gulls.

Pelicans aren't the only birds dependent on the lake. It's a stopover for many species to feed on their journey south.

A study from Utah State University says that to maintain lake levels, diverting water from rivers that flow into it would have to decrease by 30%. But for the state with the nation's fastest-growing population, addressing the problem will require a major shift in how water is allocated and perceptions of the lake, which has a strong odor in some places caused by treated wastewater and is home to billions of brine flies.

"There's a lot of people who believe that every drop that goes into the Great Salt Lake is wasted," Mr. Perry said. "That's the perspective I'm trying to change. The lake has needs, too. And they're not being met."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.


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Kavika
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Kavika     2 weeks ago

The consequences of the Great Salt Lake drying up can and will be devastating to Utah and the environment. 

If you have never seen the Great Salt Lake it is/was stunning.

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
1.1  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @1    2 weeks ago

I'm not very confident the dominant party in that state will come up with any solutions other than "maybe next year". the BLM needs to get more involved and save the dumb ass utah republicans from themselves with some emergency diversions that should have been taking place during last winter. I'm surprised the increased salt concentration hasn't started killing more of the wildlife off already. I don't know much about upper basin management of western slope water, but I have a friend involved in it and I'll be asking him about it later next week.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
1.1.1  Ender  replied to  devangelical @1.1    2 weeks ago

They are too busy trying to stop their fourth wife from running away.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
1.1.2  Texan1211  replied to  Ender @1.1.1    2 weeks ago
They are too busy trying to stop their fourth wife from running away.

What a child-like understanding of a religion.

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
1.1.3  devangelical  replied to  Ender @1.1.1    2 weeks ago

it's a full time accounting job just to keep all the sister wives kids from "unknown fathers" on federal child subsidy programs. /s - (except for parts of southern utah)

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
1.1.4  devangelical  replied to  Texan1211 @1.1.2    2 weeks ago
What a child-like understanding of a religion.

incoming correction from the west texas flds compound...

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
1.1.5  Texan1211  replied to  devangelical @1.1.4    2 weeks ago
incoming correction from the west texas flds compound...

No, just from someone who isn;t so fucking myopic and ignorant.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
1.1.6  Ender  replied to  devangelical @1.1.4    2 weeks ago

Did you hear that gnat again? Need a fly swatter.

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
1.2  Hallux  replied to  Kavika @1    2 weeks ago

It's not as if we did not have warnings:

"As the Aral Sea has dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard. The salty dust blew off the lakebed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil. Croplands had to be flushed with larger and larger volumes of river water. The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier."

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Hallux @1.2    2 weeks ago

I've read some articles on th Aral Sea, how very sad. There is also a huge lake in Africa that is in the same situation.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
1.2.2  Ender  replied to  Kavika @1.2.1    2 weeks ago

Lake Mead too. This was from April. I don't think they have done anything yet but it seems they are close.

The Bureau of Reclamation keeps tabs on the lake by measuring its height at Hoover Dam. There, the water level is currently at   1,081 feet,   and the Bureau  projects  it will drop below   1,075 feet as soon as June. After it crosses that threshold, the federal government will  declare  an official water shortage. Under a Drought Contingency Plan agreed upon by the affected states in 2019, some states will start to see big cuts in how much water they receive from Lake Mead starting in  2022 .
 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.2.3  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ender @1.2.2    2 weeks ago

Lake Powell is in the same situation. When I lived in Henderson NV 15 miles from Lake Mead from 2003 to 2012 the lake was down 110 feet, now it is down 158 ft.

The Hoover dam will be cutting back on hydro electric power due to the low water level.

The first cutbacks will be to farmers in NV and AZ. From what I've heard it will be a 20 to 25% reduction in water to them.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
1.2.4  Ender  replied to  Kavika @1.2.3    2 weeks ago

That's all we need, another dust bowl.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
2  Ender    2 weeks ago

It reads like the drain is caused by them taking all the water that would normally run into the lake.

Also sounds like it is not going to stop anytime soon, so I guess bye bye Salt Lake.

Daddy why is our city called Salt lake.  Well years ago son, we use to actually have a lake.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ender @2    2 weeks ago
It reads like the drain is caused by them taking all the water that would normally run into the lake.

That is exactly what is happening and like you I don't see a change coming so it may well be bye bye Great Salt Lake.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3  seeder  Kavika     2 weeks ago

OK everyone let's get back to the real subject of the article, The Great Salt Lake.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Masters Expert
4  Greg Jones    2 weeks ago

At one time it was known as Lake Bonneville and was about a thousand feet deep, and then one day....

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Greg Jones @4    2 weeks ago

Good link and addition to the article.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
5  Ender    2 weeks ago

Here is another one.

Thousands Of Flamingos Die As Lake In Turkey Dries Up In Drought

A drought-stricken lake bed in Turkey is strewn with thousands of dead baby and adult flamingos , alarming environmentalists shocked by the continuing ravages of climate change, reckless agricultural irrigation and callous government policies.
Lake Tuz is usually a draw for tourists delighted by the stunning views and huge flocks of the brightly colored birds who travel there each year. But a vast stretch of the huge cracked and dried lake bed in the central province of Konya is now an animal killing field .
 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
5.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ender @5    2 weeks ago

It's really heart breaking to see all of the dead animals/birds on the ''killing field'' link.

 
 
 
Thrawn 31
Masters Guide
6  Thrawn 31    2 weeks ago

Don’t worry everyone, there is nothing to see here out west. Warming temps aren’t a problem in the slightest.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
6.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Thrawn 31 @6    2 weeks ago

I'm sure that comment should have a /s after it, Thawn.

 
 
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