Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.

What can be done to save the Great Salt Lake? Together, we’ll start to find answers

Great Salt Lake seen from the International Space Station, June 2019
The color differences of the Great Salt Lake, seen here from 255 miles above the southwestern United States, is the result of a railroad causeway that bisects the lake. The northern part, to the right of the frame, has a much higher salinity than the southern part of the lake.

The Great Salt Lake has been a source of nourishment for wildlife and humans for more than 10,000 years. Its wetlands sustained Utah’s ancient inhabitants, and today, its health affects the success of industries throughout the state.

While people rely on the largest saline lake in the Western hemisphere, they’re also killing it.

Water diversions and the region’s historic drought have shrunk the lake to its lowest level in recorded history. Scientists say there will be dire consequences for the people and the environment.

The exposed lakebed will produce toxic dust that will blow into some of our most vulnerable urban areas. That will mean an increased risk of cancers, respiratory diseases and other ailments. That same dust will lead to faster snowmelt, creating more challenges for a ski industry already facing the impacts of climate change.

The lake itself is home to a $70-100 million brine shrimp industry and mineral extraction that brings in more than $1 billion in annual revenue to Utah. There are also recreation and tourism dollars that add to the total economic impact.

Great Salt Lake seen from the International Space Station
The Great Salt Lake in Utah serves as a striking visual marker for the Expedition 30 crew members orbiting over the western states aboard the International Space Station, Jan. 12, 2012.

And how do you put a dollar amount on the delicate and complex ecosystem that hosts 10 million migratory birds each year? Is it enough to value the environment of the Great Salt Lake on its own terms?

While the lake may have a bad reputation for being buggy and smelly, people are starting to take serious notice. In the recently concluded legislative session, Utah lawmakers dedicated $40 million to lake restoration — with an eye to getting more water to it. Environmentalists say it won’t be enough.

That’s why KUER has joined a group of Utah news, education and media organizations that are banding together for the Great Salt Lake Collaborative. It’s a solutions journalism project dedicated not only to report on the problems but also on potential answers. We will share content and pool resources for in-depth reporting with one goal in mind: to educate and inform people about the importance of the lake, what’s at stake and what can be done to make a difference before it’s too late.

Elaine is the News Director of the KUER Newsroom
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.