Utah’s Great Salt Lake could dry up within 5 years, scientists warn

Utah’s Great Salt Lake could dry up within 5 years, scientists warn

Utah’s Great Salt Lake could dry up within 5 years, scientists warn

Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, could completely dry up within five years if water use is not significantly reduced, researchers warn .

“The lake’s ecosystem is not just on the verge of collapse. It’s collapsing,” Benjamin Abbott, a Brigham Young University ecology professor and lead author of a new report on the lake, told CNN. “The choices we make over the next few months will affect our state and our ecosystems across the West for decades to come.”

Lake levels have been at record highs for two consecutive years. If the water continues to decline at the same rate it has since 2020, “the lake as we know it is on course to disappear in five years,” the report says.

In an aerial view, an area of ​​the Great Salt Lake that was previously underwater was completely dry on August 02, 2021 near Corinne, Utah.
In an aerial view, an area of ​​the Great Salt Lake that was previously underwater was completely dry on August 02, 2021 near Corinne, Utah.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

The lake has been steadily shrinking because so much water from the rivers and streams that feed it is being redirected for human use. This situation is exacerbated by the climate change-fueled mega-drought that has been drying out the American West for years, with less rain and snow entering the water system.

The Washington Post noted that more than 70% of the state’s water use is for growing crops to feed livestock.

The unique ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake makes it an important resource for migrating birds. An estimated 10 million birds depend on brine shrimp and flies from the lake. It is also an essential breeding ground for pelicans.

California gulls sit on an exposed sandbar at the Great Salt Lake Aug. 2, 2021, near Magna, Utah.
California gulls sit on an exposed sandbar at the Great Salt Lake Aug. 2, 2021, near Magna, Utah.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

The disappearance of the lake also poses risks to human health. When salt lakes dry up, their exposed beds become sources of harmful dust that pollutes the air, and the longer the exposed bed remains dry, the more dust escapes.

Brigham Young’s report includes numerous recommendations to save the lake, including increased federal and state funding for conservation efforts, helping farmers switch to crops that use less water, and expanding programs to remove the grass and planting native vegetation that requires less watering.

“We are in an emergency situation and we need farmers, counties, cities, businesses, churches, universities and other organizations to do everything in their power to reduce the use of water outside,” the report said. “We believe our community is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge, but only if we implement unified, pioneering rescue.”

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