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Researchers Warn About Impacts of Shrinking Great Salt Lake

Researchers say the Great Salt Lake is on its way to completely drying up. Officials from Utah State University and the Utah Division of Water Resources released a white paper detailing the impact water development has had on the Great Salt Lake.

Wayne Wurtsbaugh, a professor at USU, says its water level is 11 feet lower than it was when the Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley more than 150 years ago. 

“Most of the people that have lived in the state know that the lake goes up and down with wet and dry cycles,” Wurtsbaugh says. “So there’s a lot of variation there.”

But Wurtsbaugh says every bit of water Utahns divert from rivers flowing into the lake add to the growing amount of exposed lakebed. And he says the dropping water level creates numerous health, economic and environmental concerns.

For example, dust from dried up beaches can get picked up in storms and contribute to health problems such as asthma.

“We want to minimize the negative effects that we’re going to see, both for human populations in terms of health, but also for the millions of birds that use the lake and feed on the brine shrimp,” he says.

Wurtsbaugh says there’s no timetable for the complete desiccation of the Great Salt Lake, but adds that it’s something Utahns should keep in mind as they plan for the water development projects to feed a growing population.

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