Shrinking Great Salt Lake Is a Ticking Time Bomb

Climate change and population growth are shrinking the Great Salt Lake. The environmental consequences are dire.

June 27, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Utah

Keiki / Shutterstock

The Great Salt Lake has shrunk in size by two-thirds. Christopher Flavelle reports for the New York Times of the dire environmental consequences of that trend continuing until the lake is gone:

The lake’s flies and brine shrimp would die off — scientists warn it could start as soon as this summer — threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures. Ski conditions at the resorts above Salt Lake City, a vital source of revenue, would deteriorate. The lucrative extraction of magnesium and other minerals from the lake could stop.

There’s more:

Most alarming, the air surrounding Salt Lake City would occasionally turn poisonous. The lake bed contains high levels of arsenic and as more of it becomes exposed, wind storms carry that arsenic into the lungs of nearby residents, who make up three-quarters of Utah’s population.

Joel Ferry, a Republican state lawmaker and rancher who lives on the north side of the lake, is quoted in the article describing the prospect as an “environmental nuclear bomb.”

Flavelle also details the challenges in reversing the trend. Reversing the shrinking would “require letting more snowmelt from the mountains flow to the lake, which means less water for residents and farmers,” which would also require stemming the state and region’s quick population growth. According to the article, the dilemma raises a fundamental question about how much Americans are willing to sacrifice to avert the worst effects of climate change, not to mention live with the effects of climate change. This dilemma is, of course, not unique to Utah.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022 in The New York Times

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