Although droughts and floods produce short‐term fluctuations in the elevation of Great Salt Lake, water diversions since the arrival of 19th Century pioneers represent a persistent reduction in water supply to the lake, decreasing its elevation by 11 feet and exposing much of the lake bed. As Utah moves forward, we need to be aware of the impacts of lowered lake levels and make decisions that serve the interests of all Utahns. In particular, proposals to further develop the water supply of the Great Salt Lake should carefully consider potential impacts to the health of the lake and examine the tradeoffs. There are no water rights to protect Great Salt Lake, so water development currently focuses solely on whether there is water upstream to divert. If future water projects reduce the supply of water to the lake, its level will continue to drop.1 Although water conservation has reduced urban per capita use by 18 percent, overall municipal water use has increased by 5 percent because of our growing population.2 To significantly reduce water use, a balanced conservation ethic needs to consider all uses, including agriculture, which consumes 63 percent of the water in the Great Salt Lake Basin.
Increased awareness of how water use is lowering Great Salt Lake will help us avoid the fate of other salt lakes such as the Aral Sea in Central Asia or California’s Owens Lake, both of which have been desiccated and now cause severe environmental problems. We must look beyond the next few decades and decide how we value the lake for future generations. Lower lake levels will increase dust pollution and related human health impacts, and reduce industrial and environmental function of Great Salt Lake. We must be willing to make decisions now that preserve Great Salt Lake’s benefits and mitigate its negative impacts into the coming centuries.
Wurtsbaugh, Wayne; Miller, Craig; Null, Sarah; Wilcock, Peter; Hahnenberger, Maura; and Howe, Frank, "Impacts of Water Development on Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front" (2016). Watershed Sciences Faculty Publications. Paper 875.