A shrinking Great Salt Lake threatens Utah’s economy and our public health.

A shrinking lake threatens Utah’s economy and our public health.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A bird rots along the shores of the Great Salt Lake near Saltair on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2021, as persistent drought conditions continue to drop lake levels to historic lows .

On July 14, 1877, the Salt Lake Herald published the chilling account of two Barnes & Co. Salt Boiler night workers, who heard strange noises coming from the Great Salt Lake and, when they went to investigate, saw “a huge mass of hide and end is fast approaching”, causing them both to run for their lives. They later described what they saw as a 75-foot-long alligator-like creature with a head like a horse.

It’s hard to imagine that there could be a story of the Great Salt Lake more alarming than that of the Great Salt Lake Monster, but in fact, Utah’s future without the lake might turn out to be scarier – and much more real.

Many of us don’t think much of the Great Salt Lake. In our minds, it has always been there and always will be. Unfortunately, the persistent drought and record high water levels represent a real crisis that requires our attention. Although I understood the shrinking lake was a problem, I only recently realized how dire the situation could become and how drastically it could impact the lives of all Utahns if we don’t. ‘t act now to save the Great Salt Lake.

Economic concerns

The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council estimates that the lake contributes about $1.5 billion annually to Utah’s economy, much of which is driven by the strategic extraction of minerals from its waters. The lake is a rich reservoir of lithium, titanium, magnesium and potash – essential elements for the production of everything from medical devices to rechargeable batteries and crop fertilizers. Nearly 7,000 local jobs depend directly on the economic power of the lake, and thousands more reap the indirect benefits of this economic activity. With lower lake levels, the future for these employers looks increasingly bleak.

If the Great Salt Lake continues to recede, estimates show a dried up lake could cost the state more than $32 billion over the next 20 years as we struggle to deal with the ramifications of the resulting disaster. . It’s clear to me that the proverbial “ounce of prevention” is exactly what our lake needs.

Health problems

With a more exposed lake bed, common dust storms will exacerbate our air quality issues. Prevailing westerly winds will blow dust laden with potentially dangerous concentrations of arsenic, lithium and zirconium directly into Davis and Weber counties and across the Wasatch Front.

We have seen this scenario play out in other parts of the country. As a result of poor political decisions in California, Owens Lake was essentially drained to meet the water needs of Los Angeles. Citizens of towns surrounding the lake began to experience the worst dust pollution in the United States and to deal with significant respiratory and other health problems. With our unique mountainous geography and annual winter inversions, we cannot afford to add clouds of toxic particles to our air. Utah lawmakers must learn from Owens Lake’s mismanagement to ensure such policy failures do not occur on our watch.

Quality of life issues

Not only will everyday Utahns feel the economic and health effects of a shrinking Great Salt Lake, but such a change will drastically impact the high quality of life we ​​enjoy. According to the most recent data, we could expect a significant drop in lake effect snowfall jeopardizing our claim to the “biggest snow in the world”. The reduction in overall snowpack would be around 27 inches to 45 inches per year, shortening the ski season by up to seven weeks. Resorts alone would lose about $10 million in revenue each year, not to mention the greater economic impact.

Too often we think of the Great Salt Lake as a “dead” lake, and it’s easy to see why. The high salinity prevents any traditional agricultural or residential use of the lake – and makes it a less than ideal recreation destination. But all Utahans should recognize the importance of the Great Salt Lake to our health, our economy, our quality of life, and our identity as a state.

On January 5, 2022, I will be hosting the first-ever Great Salt Lake Summit to draw attention to this impending economic and environmental disaster – and to discuss concrete policies we can implement during the legislative session to ensure that our quality of life remains unmatched. It is our responsibility to effectively manage Utah’s water, land, and other natural resources. Throughout my time in public service, this effort will remain a priority.

Together with researchers, conservationists and industry leaders, we can contribute our best thoughts to ensure that future generations enjoy the much-needed benefits of the Great Salt Lake – leaving only the monster to fear. casual horse head.

Brad Wilson | Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives

Brad Wilson is the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives. He represents Davis County District 15.

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