Great Salt Lake May Be Facing Catastrophe in the Next Few Years: Here’s Why

by Tia Bailey
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Utah’s Great Salt Lake has been affected by many things. The great lake may face damages within the next few years.

According to Science Alert, “In a worst-case scenario, according to findings presented at the Geological Society of America’s 2022 Connects Conference in Colorado this past weekend, the world-famous body of salt-water has just a few months before ecological recovery is significantly impeded by rising salinity levels.”

Last year, the lake’s water levels hit a historically low amount due to the drought in Utah. The “megadrought” caused reduced the amount of fresh water entering the lake as well.

The website shares that a 2017 study estimated 3.3 trillion liters of water are rerouted from the lake. This is used for things like drinking water and agriculture.

Earlier this year, reports showed that the Great Salt Lake has shrunk two-thirds since the 80s. This is a huge amount, especially in a lake that many people and ecosystems rely on.

Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Joel Ferry spoke about the situation. Earlier this summer in July, the water levels were even lower than last year’s historic low.

“This is not the type of record we like to break,” Ferry said to USGS. “Urgent action is needed to help protect and preserve this critical resource. It’s clear the lake is in trouble. We recognize more action and resources are needed, and we are actively working with the many stakeholders who value the lake.”

Additionally, the great lake is one of the very few places on the planet where microbialites, which are mineralized underwater reefs, are still able to grow. However, as the water levels drop, they are no longer able to grow and thrive.

Biologist Carie Frantz of Weber State University has been monitoring the situation with a team.

Great Salt Lake in Danger of Catastrophic Damages

“Last year, it was really encouraging, because we saw that they can come back, and they come back fast,” she said. “This year we saw something very different, we don’t see that clear increase we saw last year. The organisms are stressed at these salinity levels. It’s possible it’s just too high for them to grow.”

While city legislatures have tried to help with the issue, they aren’t keeping up with climate change, which is necessary in order to actually help.

“Over a century of diversion of water from the rivers that feed Great Salt Lake, combined with the current megadrought, have shrunk the lake to historic low levels, subaerially exposing well over half of the lake’s microbialites,” Franz and her team wrote in their abstract.

They share that the lake can rebound with “societal shifts in water use” as well as a high precipitation year. This will in turn help the microbialites recover as well.