Great Salt Lake symposium evaluates future, impacts of shrinking lake

Mar 16, 2023, 12:42 PM | Updated: 2:33 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Talks were underway Thursday on the University of Utah campus about the future of the Great Salt Lake, as part of the annual Stegner Center’s symposium.

This year, nearly 700 people attended in person and online.

Thursday morning, scientists and policy makers gave a grim assessment on some of the factors that has led to the shrinking lake.

Water levels at the Great Salt Lake have hit historic lows. From 2020 to 2023, the lake lost 1.2 million acre-feet of water a year.

The calls to save this precious resource are being echoed on the U. campus.

“We cannot afford in any measure to wait this out,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “We have to act because too much is on the line.”

Dr. Kevin Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, has been sounding the alarm for years now to take action.

He warned the audience, if something doesn’t change, the lake has about five years left.

“If we continue down this path, we risk the ecological collapse and the death of millions of birds along the way.”

The megadrought and overconsumption of water all play a part.

Perry also worries about the health impacts, particularly when it comes to dust storms and the particulate pollution and heavy metals we’re exposed to. But, he stresses, it’s no reason to move out of the state.

“The problems are not being caused by existential threats that we have no control over. It means that the future of the Great Salt Lake is actually within our power to fix.”

The discussion wraps up Friday. Panelists will focus on solutions and what it will take to save the Great Salt Lake.

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Great Salt Lake symposium evaluates future, impacts of shrinking lake