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Researchers issue dire warning for Great Salt Lake

Mr. Nixter / Flickr Creative Commons

News brief: 

Researchers have published an emergency briefing warning that the Great Salt Lake could disappear “as we know it” in the next five years. They’re calling on Utah’s governor, legislature and residents to make drastic changes to reverse the lake’s decline.

"Facing this crisis will require conservation measures unprecedented in living memory," the briefing states. "Reversing the collapse of the Great Salt Lake system is perhaps the greatest challenge we have faced in the history of our state. However, history shows that our community is capable of just this kind of bold collective action."

The Great Salt Lake has lost about half its surface area compared to its historical average, and it reached record lows in 2022 for the second straight year. As the lakebed becomes more exposed, people are discovering long-forgotten artifacts, such as a shipwreck from the early 20th century that recently surfaced.

A low lake could also increase the prevalence for toxic dust storms, as well as other negative environmental impacts. The economic output of the lake – up to $2 billion – is at risk.

Dozens of conservationists and scientists are calling on Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to take emergency action to allow more water to reach the lake until it reaches a sustainable level. They’re also asking every user in the Great Salt Lake Watershed to be more aggressive in saving resources.

The report comes after President Joe Biden signed a bill to study declining saline lake ecosystems in parts of the West. Water is one of the Utah legislature’s top priorities as they convene for their general session this month.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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