Jul 7, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The great shrinking lake

Pink water washes over a Great Salt Lake salt crust in May.
Pink water washes over a Great Salt Lake salt crust in May. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

Utah's Great Salt Lake is in trouble, with serious ramifications for one of America's fastest-growing areas.

Why it matters: It's the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River and has been shrinking for years, with the mega-drought making it even worse, reports AP's Lindsay Whitehurst.

  • The lake’s levels are expected to hit a 170-year low this year.
  • Wildlife is suffering from the decline, especially birds and shrimp.
Two people with their arms around each other stand in shallow water and look towards the horizon of Utah's Great Salt Lake in June.
Visitors stand in the shallow waters in June. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

The waves have been replaced by dry, gravelly lakebed that’s grown to 750 square miles. Winds can whip up dust from the dry lakebed that is laced with naturally occurring arsenic.

Tourism is also at risk: The dust from the lakebed could speed up snowmelt at Utah's popular ski resorts.

  • And once-popular lakeside resorts are now long shuttered.
A vintage black-and-white photograph of people swimming at the Saltair resort in Utah, along the Great Salt Lake, in 1933.
People swim at Saltair in 1933. The resort once drew sunbathers who would float like corks in the Great Salt Lake's extra salty waters. Photo: Salt Lake Tribune via AP

The bottom line: To maintain lake levels, diverting water from rivers that flow into it would have to decrease by 30%.

  • But for the state with the nation’s fastest-growing population, addressing the problem will require a major shift in how water is allocated.
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