OUTDOORS + RECREATION

Summit aims to save ‘ailing’ Great Salt Lake, protect economy

Jan 5, 2022, 7:07 PM
The council presented this proposal to Utah lawmakers five times. However, each time lawmakers have...
FILE: Low water levels are pictured in the Great Salt Lake near Tooele County on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – For the first time, lawmakers, researchers and water watchers are holding a summit about the future of the Great Salt Lake.  Officials say they’re very worried about levels getting too low, which would cause health and environmental problems across the Wasatch Front. 

It’s well known that levels at the Great Salt Lake rise and fall cyclically. But right now, the current levels are as low as they were when the pioneers arrived in Utah, according to Speaker of the House, Brad Wilson.

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

“There are real consequences to the state if the lake continues to drop,” he said.

He points to examples of terminal lakes drying up in other parts of the country.  For instance, Owens Lake in Inyo County, CA, dried up in 1926, and has caused massive dust problems since then.  Wilson said nearby residents have spent millions of dollars to mitigate the damage.

Researchers say air pollution in Utah would skyrocket if the water in the Great Salt Lake disappeared. Plus, there would be devastating impacts to the brine shrimp industry, mineral extraction and ski resorts.

“Our snowpack will be smaller because we’ll have less lake effect snow,” Wilson said.  “I mean, the list of really difficult consequences of having a dried up or smaller Great Salt Lake goes on and on.”

Participants at the summit discussed possible solutions, like metering secondary water or diverting more water back to the lake.  And, since the lion’s share of Utah’s water is used for agriculture, they’re speaking with ranchers to see how they can use less water but still maintain their crops and livestock.

However, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District Manager Tage Flint says conservation, by itself, won’t solve the problem.  He believes the state will have to maintain a delicate balance to keep the lake at the most efficient level.

“Everything that we do here is going to be complex and has to be done carefully,” he said.

As an example, Flint pointed to secondary water. He said that if Utahns were to save too much water, secondary sources wouldn’t have enough water to return to the lake.

“There are wastewater plants in Davis, Weber and Salt Lake counties that largely return water back to the Great Salt Lake,” said Flint.

The Deseret News reports 40 percent of the world’s brine shrimp harvest comes from the Great Salt Lake, and it’s North America’s only source of magnesium.

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Summit aims to save ‘ailing’ Great Salt Lake, protect economy