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Great Salt Lake is steadily shrinking, report says

Posted at 9:55 PM, Sep 06, 2020

The Great Salt Lake is shrinking a little more than one foot every year.

But experts have a plan to stop it.

A place to recreate, a habitat for migratory birds and a billion dollar economy all depend on the lake's water.

But over the past 10 years, the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council says its depth has dropped roughly 11 feet, mostly due in part to population growth along the Wasatch Front.

"It will continue to decrease at about the same amount over the next couple of decades if more is not done to bring water to the lake," Great Salt Lake coordinator Laura Vernon said.

Vernon says the council narrowed down a list of 70 strategies to 12 "actionable" measures that could keep the lake from evaporating.

She says it's important for a number of reasons, the topmost being a proposal to recognize irrigators' rights to water they don't use.

“We want to make sure that they aren't penalized for letting that water go downstream,” she said. "That the beneficial use is then seen as getting the water to the lake.”

As it is now, water users lose the rights to water they don't put to "beneficial use" under western water law.

If changes are not made, the advisory council says the shrinking water levels won't just impact industries reliant on the lake.

“The more exposed lake bed you have when you have significant wind events, you have more of the natural and human-induced minerals exposed and blowing around in the Salt Lake Valley,” Vernon said.

Or in other words: Increased air pollution.

“At minimum, the notion of increasing the particulate matter in the air from exposed lake bed from the dust alone increasing PM 2.5 emissions is significant as the lake bed dries," Vernon said.

The recommendations also include metering all secondary water, ensuring sufficient stream flows to the lake, and improved coordination among state agencies.

“Doing what we can now to keep water in the lake will make sure that we save moeny down the road, that we're not spending too much in emergency efforts to keep water in," Vernon said.

Click here to read the council's full report.