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Great Salt Lake projected to hit new historic low this year

Posted at 2:42 PM, Apr 26, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — The Great Salt Lake is projected to drop another two feet to hit a new historic low this year, state officials warned on Tuesday.

During a briefing to the Salt Lake County Council, the Utah Department of Natural Resources said the lake is expected to drop even lower than last year's historic low of 4,191.2 feet.

"We are anticipating that given the snowpack, it will likely hit a new low this year," Laura Vernon, the state's Great Salt Lake coordinator, told FOX 13 News in an interview afterward.

The Great Salt Lake has already shrunk 11-feet since it was first measured in the 1800s. It is a result of water diversion, drought and climate change. The news of the lower lake level alarmed members of the council.

"The environmental, quality of life, the impact of the Great Salt Lake becoming the Aral Sea will be catastrophic and life as we know it will be altered much differently," said council member Richard Snelgrove.

It presents a growing ecological and economic catastrophe for the state of Utah and the western United States. A dried up lake could impact the snowpack in Utah. The lake itself generates billions in economic benefit to the state as a result of mineral extraction and recreation. There are toxins in the lake that would blow into populated areas as a result of dust storms. Millions of migratory birds use the lake, which is 80% of the state's wetlands.

Vernon told the council that water conservation is one of the most important things people can do to save the lake. If not, it could cost billions to mitigate the damage. Vernon told council members that the legislature has taken "tremendous" steps to support the Great Salt Lake and mitigate the damage.

"This year during the legislative session it gave us a huge jump start, putting a lot of these things in motion as a result of the legislation. But there will always be room for more," Vernon said.

Council members said there is more that can be done from a government and personal level.

"Not just cheerleading about conservation or praying for it, but making it happen through regulatory actions if you need to, is absolutely critical if we’re going to deal with our water crisis not just for the Great Salt Lake but for the population," said council member Jim Bradley.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who has been organizing briefings on Utah's water situation for the council, said she hopes it serves as a wake up call to everyone.

"This is a moment for us all to move quickly," said Mayor Wilson. "Sort of like this idea of climate change. I think for a long time we debated if it was real. It’s real. We have a water problem. We need to consume less and we need to do it now."

Mayor Wilson pleaded with people to conserve water.

"Please do your fair share. Residents, do your fair share. Businesse,s do your fair share on this reduction," she said. "The other thing we can do is look at our own practices. We have a lot of parks and golf courses."

Governor Spencer Cox last week declared a new state of emergency for drought. The legislature has advanced some major conservation measures aimed at getting more water into the Great Salt Lake. Already, new water restrictions are being advanced by cities and local water districts.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.