The Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah this month hit an all-time low. The drought has been going on there for over two decades. This situation worries researchers, who warn that the drying out of the reservoir could have serious consequences for the environment and health of local residents. It may also have a very negative impact on the economy.
Located in the southwestern United States, the Great Salt Lake is one of the most unique bodies of water in the Northern Hemisphere. However, a heavily saline salty waterless lake is in danger of an ecological catastrophe, and preventing it can be really difficult.
The lowest level in more than two decades
Utah’s chronic water shortage has lasted 22 years, but this year has proven to be particularly dry. According to the data of the US geological agency USGS, in early July the water in the lake was at the lowest recorded level. Its mirror was at an altitude of 1,277 meters above sea level, below the previous record – from 2021 and the previously recorded result – from October 1963 (1,277.5 meters above sea level). There has been the least amount of water since the mid-nineteenth century, when measurements began.
Experts indicate that the evaporation of water and its consumption exceed the amount flowing into the lake.
The dust of the exposed day rises and falls on the cities
Forecasts indicate that the water table will continue to decline until fall or early winter. The lake currently contains little more than a quarter of the volume of water it can hold.
“ The lake’s waters have receded, revealing more than two thousand square kilometers of dry bottom, ” says Kevin Perry of the University of Utah, who has been working on the drying up of the reservoir since 2016. “It’s about the same as the entire island of Maui in Hawaii,” he adds.
Drying water exposed layers of dry and cracked earth, which were then lifted by the wind as dust clouds, later falling onto neighboring cities. The bottom sediments of the Great Salt Lake contain calcium, sulfur and arsenic, as well as contaminants from copper and silver mining.
“If you breathe this dust for a long time, decades or more, it can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” explains Perry. “But what I’m most concerned about is the arsenic content,” he says.
“We have to save the lake if we don’t want to become ‘Dust Lake City'”
It is not only humans that are at risk. In the Great Salt Lake there are microbialites – green, underwater structures that shelter microorganisms that are food for brine shrimp. These, in turn, are eaten by birds, including the valuable red ducks and great grebes.
These sensitive structures dry up, turn pale and lose their function when exposed to external factors.
In addition, the nearby metropolis, the capital of the Utah state – Salt Lake City (which in Polish means City on the Salt Lake) is already exposed to storms which experts fear may become more intense. “We have to save the lake if we don’t want to become Dust Lake City,” emphasizes Perry.
If it dries up, thousands of people could lose their jobs
The Great Salt Lake is also an important economic center. According to Utah authorities, it contributes $ 1.3 billion to the state budget each year, including from shrimp fishing.
Laura Vernon of the Utah State Department of Natural Resources points out that the lake provides 7,700,000 jobs, and if it gets dry, 6,500 jobs will be lost.
The governor of Utah, Republican Spencer Cox recently signed 11 laws related to environmental protection and water policy. Long-term solutions will require major consumers – agriculture, industry, municipalities – to reduce water consumption.
– There is a risk that everything that the Great Salt Lake gives us might disappear. It is driving political pressure to do something, adds state House Representative Republican Tim Hawkes. – You can’t eat cake and have cake. You cannot have economic growth, urban development and green lawns in front of your home without pressure on the environment, he admits.
“The changes won’t happen overnight, but we hope we can do something to bring more water into the lake,” Laura Vernon shares her hope.
Main photo source: Reuters