GREAT SALT LAKE

Biologist says Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is near collapse

Sep 9, 2022, 4:05 PM | Updated: 4:19 pm

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. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org

ANTELOPE ISLAND, Utah — A biology professor said the Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is dangerously close to collapsing, creating a risk for all of Utah.

“The water is just full of dead brine fly larvae and pupa; just death everywhere. It’s terrible,” said Bonnie Baxter, a biologist, and director of the Great Salt Lake Institute.

Baxter has reason to be pessimistic about the prospect of a healthy, thriving Great Salt Lake.

“We are at the tipping point for this ecosystem,” she said.

Baxter has studied this body of water for more than two decades, her take on the lake really holds water.

A few years back she co-authored a dark, satirical obituary of our massive saline staple, penning this untimely cause of death. “The combination of terminal dehydration and high fever” killed the Great Salt Lake, she said. “Had we … adequately fund[ed] her healthcare in time, we may not be mourning her death today.”

“Since the lake has been in this perilous state, I’ve been getting emails and letters and phone calls constantly,” Baxter said.

Looking from the ever-changing edge of the Great Salt Lake at Buffalo Bay toward Antelope Island itself, you can see major issues.

A line shows what is leftover of the remnants of the brine flies and effective cocoons. They mark where the water level would have been.

For the better part of the last decade, we have lost hundreds and hundreds of yards to what is now the current edge of the Great Salt Lake.

“As water evaporates, the salt stays behind and it gets more and more concentrated and it starts threatening the ecosystem that way,“ Baxter said.

In a place where water literally is life, it’s going to take a change in the way we think about conservation.

“Why do we need to put our water down into the bottom of the Great Salt Lake anyway? Well now, science is telling us there are some reasons,” Baxter said.

“We enjoy coming out here,” Miriam Oliver said. “We enjoy bringing people out here.”

She’s lived in Utah for almost 15 years. Miriam brings family and friends to visit the lake often and was shocked to see the growing distance between the parking lot and the beach that’s seemingly creeping its way off toward a distant horizon.

“With that, you do have to worry about how much water we are using,” Miriam said.

As water sample after sample returns the same dire results of an unsustainable level of salt, is it too late? Is the death of the lake imminent like Baxter’s obituary foretold?

She says one thing could take the lake off life support. “The one thing is the big thing. Get more water to the lake and there’s a lot of things that have to happen to do that.”

More water is a simple solution but not an easy one.

More than a dozen laws governing our water use in Utah passed this year and the U.S. Senate passed a bill that will look at bringing water from other sources through pipelines.

Baxter thinks the solution starts here and the time to save the lake’s life is now.

“I believe there’s enough water in the watershed to get water to this lake. I do believe that,” she said. “I would be willing to write to change the obituary to a lifetime achievement award if we see progress in five years.”

Instead of closing the coffin on this critical resource, we can celebrate the next chapter of the lake and a job well done.

Just not yet.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Great Salt Lake

CORINNE, UTAH - AUGUST 02: In an aerial view, an evaporation pond is pinkish-red due to high salini...
Carter Williams, KSL.com

Dust hot spots: Where is Great Salt Lake’s toxic dust most likely to originate?

Kevin Perry believes there are many "trigger points" that indicate when there is something wrong with the Great Salt Lake.
4 days ago
The Shorelines Preserve at the Great Salt Lake (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson

Using stormwater to create wetlands at the Great Salt Lake

The Nature Conservancy will soon be using stormwater to create new wetlands off the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
11 days ago
Bear River Massacre site. (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson

Restoration of Idaho’s Bear River Massacre site may benefit Great Salt Lake

Current efforts to restore the site of the Bear River Massacre could benefit the whole Wasatch Front in a big way.
12 days ago
(Great Salt Lake State Park & Marina )...
Cary Schwanitz

Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina closes boat ramp

As water levels at the Great Salk Lake continue to set record lows. the Great Salt Lake Park and Marina closed the boat ramp on Thursday.
1 month ago
FILE: An active Monsoon season will not have an impact on Utah's drought. (Pineview reservoir file ...
Saige Miller, KUER

Utah can’t save or stretch its precious water if it can’t super accurately measure it

As the Western megadrought stretches on, conservation, rate hikes or tearing out turf may not be enough.
1 month ago
Saltair from boardwalk early (Utah State Historical Society)...
Dan Spindle

The Rise and fall of the Great Saltair: The search for Utah’s lost world class lakefront resort

At one point, the Great Salt Lake was home to a lakefront resort bringing in big crowds, including celebrities and U.S. Presidents. KSL's Dan Spindle looks into the rise and fall of that resort and how it ties into our efforts to save the precious resource.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
Biologist says Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is near collapse