Will Utah's Great Salt Lake disappear?

Is Utah’s Great Salt Lake Drying Up? The Impact of Water Diversion and Climate Change

Utah’s Great Salt Lake, once known for its saltiness, is now rapidly disappearing. This natural wonder, which was once a popular tourist spot, has been reduced to a fraction of its original size in just a few decades. As a Salt Lake City native, I have seen firsthand the devastation that has occurred.

The lake was once a vast expanse of water, covering an area of 2,300 square miles. However, it has now shrunk to less than a third of its original size. This is due to various factors, including climate change, water diversion, and the region’s historic megadrought.

Images from NASA Earth Observatory show how the lake has drastically reduced in size in just a few decades. A flight over the lake reveals the drying process, with stretches of land that were once underwater now emerging. The lake’s natural cycle always varied, depending on how much water flowed into it. However, this has now gone far beyond a normal cycle, according to Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

Romney believes that immediate action is necessary, as allowing the lake to dry up is not an option. However, most of the lake’s water is already spoken for, with 70% of it going to agriculture. Additionally, the billion-dollar mineral extraction industry also relies on the lake’s water. The industry extracts a million tons of salt annually, as well as magnesium chloride, sulfate of potash, and lithium. If the lake dries up, it could threaten thousands of jobs that depend on the industry.

A scientific report released last month warned that the lake is on track to disappear in the next five years unless water use is reduced by up to 50% annually. Bonnie Baxter, a biochemist from Westminster College and one of the authors of the study, has been studying the lake’s brine shrimp and flies for two decades. She said that the lake’s ecosystem could collapse, affecting millions of migratory shorebirds who depend on the lake’s food sources.

The drying of the lake has also led to another alarming problem. Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, discovered that the newly exposed soil was contaminated with toxic heavy metals, particularly arsenic. This poses a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of the region’s residents, as the dust is blown into the air and inhaled.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is rapidly disappearing, and the situation demands immediate action. It is not only a natural wonder but also an essential resource for the region’s population and industries. It is crucial to reduce water use and find alternative sources of water to ensure the lake’s survival. Additionally, the toxic dust emanating from the exposed soil poses a significant health threat to the area’s residents. It is time to act now to save this critical ecosystem.

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