UTAH DROUGHT

Low lake levels threaten the food chain in the Great Salt Lake

Jul 15, 2021, 4:56 PM
Microbialites in the Great Salt Lake...
Microbialites in the Great Salt Lake, July 1, 2021 (Photo: Utah Geological Survey)
(Photo: Utah Geological Survey)

SALT LAKE CITY — The ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake — from brine shrimp and brine flies to the millions of migratory birds that live along the shore — depends on structures called microbialites. They’re rocks coated with salt-tolerant bacteria that live in shallow water and convert sunlight into food by photosynthesis. But they’re threatened by declining water levels in the lake, which are approaching record lows.

“The brine flies and brine fly larvae crawl on them and eat them, and also brine shrimp will graze on them,” said Professor Bonnie Baxter, head of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College.

If the the microbialites are exposed, the bacterial mats can die off very quickly. And they don’t come back right away when water levels go up.

“If lake levels come back up and these things are re-submerged, it takes several seasons or several years for the microbes to even think about recolonizing and reforming on these structures,” said Michael Vanden Berg, Energy and Minerals program manager with the Utah Geological Survey.

Vanden Berg said some areas of microbialites have already been exposed as the lake level has dropped. And more could be as before it reaches its seasonal low in October or November.

Baxter said the ecosystem of the lake is just one of the reasons Utahns should be concerned about how the lake level is managed. Blowing dust from areas left dry is another.

“It’s critical for our air quality. It’s critical for our snow. Otherwise dust lands on the snow and melts it more quickly. So it’s critical for our water supply,” she told KSL Newsradio.

Vanden Berg says it’s hard to predict what the ultimate impact of losing more microbialites will be. “We’re basically in new territory,” he said.

 

Today’s Top Stories

Utah Drought

Colorado River...
Lindsay Aerts

Utah won’t be forced to cut water use from Colorado River, at least for now

While still being required to conserve water, Utah will not have its water use cut from the Colorado River, at least for now, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
3 days ago
FILE:  Satellite view of Lake Powell in Utah, in April, 2022. (Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Coperni...
Ella Nilsen and Rachel Ramirez, CNN

Colorado River falls into Tier 2 shortage, new cuts coming for Southwest

The federal government is implementing new mandatory water cuts and asking states to devise a plan to save the river basin.
3 days ago
Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources...
Chandler Holt

Some Utah areas see slight drop in drought levels

A drought update from the Utah Division of Water Resources offers a glimpse of good news for Utah. Division spokesman Michael Sanchez says you can thank a good monsoonal season for a slight drop in the percentage of the state that is in extreme drought or worse
7 days ago
The water level at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US by volume, is at its lowest since it ...
Nouran Salahieh and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

More human remains discovered in Lake Mead’s receding waters

More human remains have been found in the receding waters of Lake Mead, authorities announced Saturday. This is the fourth time human remains have been found at Lake Mead National Recreation Area since May.
12 days ago
Four American white pelicans forage in Utah Lake on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. The Daybreak Water Compan...
Martha Harris

Low water levels at Utah Lake cause restrictions for Daybreak

The Daybreak Water Company says its secondary access at Utah Lake is restricted due to low water levels. However, a expert says those restrictions are in place for the health of the lake.
14 days ago
sprinkler is pictured. Secondary water is used for irrigation....
Kate Davis

Utah Board of Water Resources approves nearly $200 million to build secondary water meters

Grants totaling around $190 million will be used to build over 100,000 new secondary water meters across the state of Utah.
14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Low lake levels threaten the food chain in the Great Salt Lake