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Low Water Prompts New Concern for Great Salt Lake

David Lewis
Courtesy: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
American white pelicans on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Their nests are at risk because a land bridge created by low water gives predators access to their nests on Gunnison Island.

Water levels in the Great Salt Lake have dropped close to record low, prompting the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council to talk about how that low water affects everyone and everything that depends on the lake.

The Great Salt Lake is one of the world’s most important wetlands and water bird areas. Plus, brine shrimping, mineral extraction and recreation pump more than $1 billion into the economy each year and support more than 7,700 jobs.

So, it’s no surprise that low water is triggering concern.

“It’s a human-environmental issue,” says Wayne Martinson of the National Audubon Society in Utah. “It’s an economic issue. It’s a wildlife issue. I think that’s a beginning of a discussion of what the problems are.”

Low water affects pollution, irrigation and the brine shrimp harvest. And mineral companies need more lake water for salt, potash and magnesium extraction.

Birds also feel the impact. Martinson says thousands of American pelicans are at risk because predators on the shore can now cross a land bridge to pelican nests on Gunnison Island.

“To me,” he says, “the lake is in trouble.”

Martinson will be reporting preliminary findings on Wednesday to the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council. The panel helps guide state policy on the iconic water body that some call “America’s Dead Sea.”

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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