UTAH DROUGHT

The Great Salt Lake is “struggling to survive,” according to expert

Jan 9, 2023, 7:30 PM | Updated: Jan 10, 2023, 4:40 pm

Measure Great Salt Lake...

A lifejacket sits on the dock of a dried up Great Salt Lake Marina on Oct. 7, 2022. (Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

(Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study says The Great Salt Lake could completely dry up within the next five years.

Director of The Great Salt Lake Institute of Westminster College and one of the study’s authors Dr. Bonnie Baxter joins Jeff Caplin to discuss the dire stakes of the lake.

The state of The Great Salt Lake is “terrible”

Baxter begins by saying the report was written out of a need to summarize the state of The Great Salt Lake as 2022 came to an end. She says the lake hit, yet another, historic low in 2022.

According to Baxter, the report was written with legislation in mind.

“We needed to [write the report] before the legislator met in the state of Utah, so they have something to work with,” she says. “I think it’s a very serious situation that requires mitigation. If we don’t intervene, it’s only going to get worse.”

Despite the possibility of the state of the lake getting worse, Baxter says right now, “it’s terrible,” the lake is “struggling to survive.”

Health risks posed by the drying lake

The study discusses dust coming from the drying lake. As the lake dries, more of its lakebed is exposed, leading to the wind picking up its dust.

Baxter says this dust, even if it’s not toxic, can pose serious health threats to the people living in Utah.

“Small particle pollution can cause all kind of cardiovascular raspatory problems,” she says. “We know it leads to cancers and asthma and … COPD. The kind of things you would get from smoking [multiple] packs of cigarettes a day.”

Doubters of the situation

Caplin says some people are skeptical of this report calling it “alarmists stuff.”

In response, Baxter says scientists are not typically alarmists. Rather, they are “careful” and “skeptical” as it is a part of their training.

“The fact that we (scientists) push this forward, has a lot to do with the immediacy and the significance,” Baxter says. “The fact that we’re making the observations, we feel the responsibility to tell the public about these observations.”

How to save The Great Salt Lake

Some people have proposed running a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to the lake as an attempt to save it. While it is great that people are brainstorming ideas, Baxter says, this will not save the lake, it will create another issue.

“What we don’t want to do is put more salt in the system,” Baxter says. “The best thing we could do, and the cheapest thing we could do, is to act locally on getting more freshwater into the system.”

The next step Utah must take, according to the study, is to get more water into the lake. Baxter says legislature will have a lot of responsibility when it comes to this. 

“I think that the legislature needs to look very carefully at their responsibility in this” she says. “Last year’s session, if we can do that again, there were so many incredible pieces of legislation that helped move us in the right direction. But, it’s not enough we need to do more.”

Related: Lawmaker: Concern over Great Salt Lake is bigger deal than we realize

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The Great Salt Lake is “struggling to survive,” according to expert