Great Salt Lake At Historic Low Level: Should Utahans Be Worried?
According to the USGS, the Great Salt Lake could be at a historic low-level next year if Utah authorities do not take significant actions. After it had been revealed that the experts involved in monitoring the status of the Great Salt Lake discovered that its water level fell to 4,191.6 feet in November, many took to social media to wonder about the survival of the various birds, lizards, and (jokingly) the North Shore Monster that live in the area.
The water level of the Great Salt Lake is already at a historic low, but it could worsen in 2016. This week, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Utah Department of Natural Resources made a not so surprising announcement about the Great Salt Lake that should worry Utahans.
The Great Salt Lake contributes an estimated $1.3 billion annually to Utah’s economy including $1.1 billion from the mineral extraction industry, $136 million from recreation, and $57 million from the harvest of brine shrimp. In November, the northern arm’s water level of the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere fell to 4,191.6 feet.
The experts, who are monitoring the lake, which covers an area of around 1,700 square miles (4,400 km2), explained that it was a foot lower than last year’s historic low. At 4,192.5 feet, the south arm of the Great Salt Lake, also known as “America’s Dead Sea,” remains more than one foot higher than its previous historic low of 4,191.35 feet, which was recorded in 1963. However, scientists predict that in 2016 there could be a new record low of the elevation.
USGS scientist Cory Angeroth explained that despite Utah’s “entrenched drought,” he is optimistic that the mountain snowpack will resolve the matter. Angeroth shared:
“There is a chance the south arm of the Great Salt Lake could reach a historic low in 2016, but it depends on the amount of precipitation we get through the winter and spring months. The condition of the current mountain snowpack is definitely a positive for the lake and hopefully the storms will keep coming.”
Although it has been called “America’s Dead Sea,” the lake provides habitat for millions of birds including Wilson’s phalaropes, red-necked phalaropes, American avocets, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, snowy plovers, western sandpipers, long-billed dowitchers, tundra swans, American white pelicans, white-faced ibis, California gulls, eared grebes, peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
The area is also home to large population of various ducks, geese, brine shrimps, lizards, and mammalian wildlife and a variety of plant species. Laura Ault, a lands manager with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, had the following to say on how the ecosystem is being affected:
“Some of the islands — they’re no longer islands. A lot of the birds, once they leave their nest, if they’re disturbed, they won’t come back.”
The historic low level of water has prompted officials to put in place a series of protocols designed to protect the lake’s ecological health and economic contributions. The lake, which was has the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Brigham Young, to thank for its name, is one of Utah’s largest tourist attractions. Antelope Island State Park is a popular tourist destination that offers breathtaking views of the lake, hiking and biking trails, wildlife viewing, and access to beaches. Three resorts, each called Saltair, have been operating on the southern shore of the lake since 1893.
Some of the changes that will soon be put in place include the Forestry, Fire and State Lands Division not issuing any new or expanded permits for mining companies that pump brine out of the lake because it could exacerbate low water levels.
According to Jason Curry, of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL):
“Utah land managers will not entertain any new mineral leasing around the lake, and will crack down on illegal motorized travel across exposed lakebed and fast track approvals for dredging operations.”
Other plans include:
Two culverts had historically allowed water to flow between the two branches, but those were closed in recent years after the railroad reported they were sinking into the lakebed.The railroad plans to start construction next year on a 180-foot bridge to break up the causeway, allowing water to again flow back and forth and put the north and south water levels on par.
Many are wondering, where will the North Shore Monster or Salt Lake Ness Monster live if the lake vanishes? Moreover, where will visitors go for the sole purpose of floating if the lake dries out?
Here are USGS Landsat images comparing water flowing through the Great Salt Lake breach in 2011 and no flow in 2015.