Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science & Environment

Low Water Has High Potential Impact On Great Salt Lake Ecosystems, Economy

Water levels at the Great Salt Lake are hovering close to the lowest ever, and that's made the water so salty it may reduce brine shrimp, its phytoplanton food supply and the birds that feed on the shrimp and their eggs.

Low water on the Great Salt Lake is raising concern. The worries are economic and ecological as the water dips close to the lowest level it’s ever been.

Companies that mine minerals and salt from the Great Salt Lake have spent millions of dollars so far to adapt to the low water.

But it’s brine shrimp and birds causing the most worry right now.

That’s because the Union Pacific Railroad is planning to breach the 20–mile causeway that divides the lake’s north arm from the south arm at a time when changes to the lake’s salinity could have cascading impacts on the food chain.

“You get this compounding effect, “ says Kyle Stone, a biologist for the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program in the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “If you raise the salinity too much, too quickly, you can not only affect the juveniles in reaching that adult stage, but you can also change the food base for all life stages of brine shrimp.”

Stone says higher salinity could cut the brine shrimp’s food source, phytoplankton. And less brine shrimp means millions of eared grebes could go hungry as they lay over at the Great Salt Lake for the next few months. Plus, this season’s brine shrimp harvest could be at risk, as well.

Lynn deFreitas, director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, points out that the lake has a $1.3 billion impact on the state’s economy.

“The lake belongs to all of us,” deFreitas . We all have a stake in this claim, and we should make our concerns heard.”

Union Pacific has indicated that delaying the breach might mean missing its permit deadline and higher costs.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.