Wasatch Environmental Update for February 28, 2016
By John Worlock, Member of Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons
“Water Diversions and the Great Salt Lake”
Today’s Update is about the Great Salt Lake, and how it has been affected by a century and a half of diversions of water from its tributaries. A recent study by a group of experts from Utah State University, Westminster College and the Utah Divisions of Water and Wildlife Resources, is sobering in its findings, and suggests caution in following any plan for further diversions. We believe this caution is immediately applicable to current ideas for diverting water from the Bear River, which provides well over half of the inflow to the Great Salt Lake.
Figure one in the report shows a map of the Lake, outlining its average natural shoreline at an altitude of 4207 ft, contrasted with the waters of the lake today, showing nearly half of the lake bed exposed and dry. The term average natural shoreline indicates the fact that the lake’s extent fluctuates from decade to decade. A graph in Figure two indicates that these fluctuations can raise and lower the lake’s surface by something like five feet. The same graph also shows the steady decline of the average lake level by eleven feet since the days of the pioneers. Eleven feet doesn’t sound like much, but it represents half of the lake’s volume, as well as half of its area.
OK, that diverted water has been essential to the growth of agriculture and the population on the Wasatch Front. What has been lost, or what is threatened by the shrinking of the lake?
Recreation includes boating and hunting, adding 135 million dollars to the economy. The brine shrimp industry clocks in at 57 million dollars. More important to some of us are the enormous bird populations that rely on the Great Salt Lake for both migration and reproduction.
Perhaps most importantly, the dry lakebed will function as a source for particulate pollution blown into the local atmosphere by windstorms, adding to the public health impact of our already, periodically poisonous, air. But we urge you to read and study this report. Send a copy to your state senator or representative.