A megadrought has hit the Great Salt Lake and water levels are at an all-time low, dropping about an inch of its previous record in 1963. Levels could still drop further as the low levels came months earlier than its typical lowest daily water levels.
The receding water levels have already affected many of the species dependent on the lake, such as pelicans. Sailboats have also been hoisted out of the water so that they don’t get stuck in the mud that has become of many areas of the lake. The dry lakebed is getting exposed as well.
Because of the shallowness of the lake, less water means receding shorelines, and potential problems for residents near the area, as they had been diverting water from the rivers that flow into the lake to water their crops and supply their homes.
The dry lakebed that is laced with naturally occurring arsenic could send toxic dust into the air, which is breathed by millions of people in the area. (Related: MEGADROUGHT: Is a new dust bowl on the way?)
The Great Salt Lake used to gain up to two feet of spring runoff; however, this year, it only came up to six inches.
Lyn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said that many people have been talking about the lake flatlining.
Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox begged the people to cut back on lawn watering.
The current megadrought is affecting not only the Great Salt Lake but others across the western United States as well, worsening the wildfires affecting California and Oregon.
Kevin Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah said in April this year that he had never seen the water level so low.
Perry also warned that the Great Salt Lake could be a repeat of California’s Owens Lake, which was pumped dry to accommodate the needs of Los Angeles. It then created a dust bowl that cost the government millions of dollars to tamp down.
While the bed of the lake makes it tougher to blow the dust away, Perry is looking into how long the protective crust will last and how dangerous the arsenic could be.
The exposed lakebed also means that people venture onto the crust, including off-road vehicles that could damage the area further.
Great Salt Lake coordinator Laura Vernon said: “The more continued drought we have, the more of the salt crust will be weathered and more dust will become airborne because there’s less of that protective crust layer.”
Jaimi Butler, coordinator for Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College in Salt Lake City said that it is critical to care for the lake. He studies the American white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, which typically flock on a remote outpost in the lake. With up to 20 percent of bird species nesting on the island, the falling lake levels exposed a land bridge, allowing foxes and coyotes to come across for rodents and other food, frightening the birds into fleeing their nests, leaving their nests and hatchlings to be eaten by seagulls.
Pelicans are not the only birds dependent on the lake, either. It is a stopover for many species that journey to the south in the winter.
To maintain lake levels, the state would have to decrease the amount of water it diverts from the lake by 30 percent. With Utah being the nation’s fastest-growing population, however, there needs to be a shift in perception to address the problem.
There’s a lot of people who believe that every drop that goes into the Great Salt Lake is wasted,’ Perry said.
“That’s the perspective I’m trying to change. The lake has needs, too. And they’re not being met.”
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