Utah’s Great Salt Lake hit its lowest level on record this week and, like the entire western United States, fell victim to a chronic drought exacerbated by climate change, local authorities worried about the phenomenon’s impact on economy and environment.
One of the largest salt lakes in the continental United States, the level of the lake fluctuates naturally with the seasons and rainfall. But it had never been this low since measurements began in 1847 with the arrival of the first Mormons in the Salt Lake City area.
This historic record was first broken in October 2021, the American Institute of Geophysics (USGS) recalled in a press release.
“This is not the kind of record that we like to break,” Joel Ferry, director of Utah Natural Resources, said in the joint statement.
“Urgent action is required to help protect and conserve this vital resource. It is clear that the lake has problems,” he emphasizes.
Based on previous measurements, “the level of the lake is likely to continue to fall until the fall or early winter, when the amount of water entering the lake equals or exceeds its evaporative losses,” explains the Institute of Geophysics.
Utah authorities estimate that the Great Salt Lake contributes $1.3 billion annually to the local economy, whether through mining, fish farming, or tourism activities.
Of even greater concern, the reduction in the lake also threatens many species of migratory birds that stop there, and it could also have health impacts on local populations.
Scientists have recently warned of sediment rich in arsenic particles lining the bottom of the lake. They could be carried by the wind and eventually poison people who inhale them if the lake’s surface area decreases excessively.
Most of the western United States is experiencing an exceptional drought, reducing river flow and causing lakes and reservoirs to drop dramatically.
Climatologists explain that the region has been suffering from droughts for more than twenty years. But the phenomenon, now combined with rising temperatures driven largely by human activity, is transforming the region.