Letter: Saving the Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake is drying up.
Maybe your initial reaction is, “Great, I won’t miss that stinky lake and all those mosquitoes!”
Or maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s interesting” — and you’re right.
Either way, I plead with you to think again. The issue is beyond interesting. It’s imperative.
The Great Salt Lake is often misidentified as dead and ungiving, but it actually has a vivacious ecosystem. It’s a natural refuge for a variety of waterfowl that nest there, raise their broods, and feed upon the brine. Its unique lake-effect precipitation provides necessary moisture for Tooele agriculture. Lake-effect snow also keeps Utah ski resorts among the best in the world, bringing in an estimated 1.5 billion dollars to the state yearly.
Most importantly, the lake protects Utahns from exposure to toxic metals lying on the bottom of its bed. Once the water is gone, it becomes toxic dust that is easily inhaled or ingested. These metals never leave the body.
If that last thought didn’t trigger any concern, then I will repeat it. The lake is holding back dangerous amounts of arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, cobalt, antimony, lithium, manganese, vanadium, and zirconium. Once the water is gone, down-winders will live with constant exposure and the deadly consequences of toxic metals.
Other towns are living with this fate. When Owens Lake in California dried up because of water overuse, the state had to implement costly measures to minimize the harmful dust that pervades the area. Still, many suffer from chronic bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema. Some say the air is so saturated with toxins they can taste it. The Great Salt Lake is ten times larger than Owens and has more people living in closer proximity.
What is to be done? As overwhelming as this issue sounds, it’s not too late — but barely. Research shows that the lake’s ecosystem could be decimated by over-salinity as soon as November, threatening not only the ecosystem, but hundreds of aquaculture jobs that contribute tens of millions of dollars to the Utah economy.
What can be done? As Professor Bonnie Baxter of Westminster College said in a recent RadioWest interview, we must “get some water to the lake.” All the water used to maintain our lush, green lawns deprives the lake of its life-saving resource. Consider this: will that green lawn matter if it is covered with a flour-like dust of toxic metals?
Nevada, now on the verge of a drought disaster, has already taken action. A new law requires non-single-family homes remove all non-functional grass by 2027. Incentive programs also encourage homeowners to convert their lawns to drip-irrigation systems and native plants. With all the building and growth in Utah, why have we not followed suit?
It is time for us as Utahans to realize that we cannot continue to consume nearly the most water per capita of any state.
In honor of autumn and the Great Salt Lake, please turn off your sprinklers today and in the future irrigate sparingly. Encourage local businesses, churches, and civic buildings to do the same. Ask your representatives to support the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act. Support the federal bi-partisan infrastructure bill that includes funds for climate resilience, which could be pivotal if used to save the lake. Write to Governor Cox, and your state and municipal representatives, to enact temporary emergency watering restrictions and long-term legislation similar to Nevada’s. Share this information with friends, and post on social media.
Do this today before the Great Salt Lake becomes the next Owens Lake.
Cathy Ambrose, Orem