Drought in the United States: Utah's Great Salt Lake at historic low
Sylvie Claire / July 7, 2022
The Great Salt Lake of Utah reached this week its lowest level ever recorded, victim as all the western United States of a chronic drought exacerbated by climate change, announced local authorities, who are concerned about the impact of the phenomenon on the economy and the environment.
The level of the lake, one of the largest salt lakes in the continental U.S., naturally fluctuates with the seasons and rainfall. But it had never been so low since the beginning of measurements in 1847, with the arrival of the first Mormons in the Salt Lake City area.
This historic record was broken a first time in October 2021, recalls in a statement the U.S. Geophysical Institute (USGS).
This is not the kind of record we like to break, Utah Natural Resources Director Joel Ferry said in the joint statement. Urgent action is needed to help protect and preserve this vital resource. It's clear the lake is in trouble, he insists.
Based on past records, the lake level will likely continue to decline until fall or early winter, when the amount of water entering the lake will equal or exceed its evaporative losses, says the Geophysical Institute.
Utah officials estimate that the Great Salt Lake contributes $1.3 billion annually to the local economy, from mining to fish farming to tourism.
Of greater concern, the lake's depletion also threatens many of the migratory bird species that call the lake home and could also have health implications for the local population.
Scientists have recently warned that sediments rich in arsenic particles are lining the lake bottom. They could be spread by the wind and eventually poison humans who breathe them if the lake surface decreases excessively.
Almost the entire western United States is in the grip of an exceptional drought that is reducing river flows and dramatically lowering lake and reservoir levels.
Climatologists explain that there have been droughts in the region that have persisted for more than 20 years. But the phenomenon, now combined with rising temperatures caused largely by human activities, is transforming the region.