Years of drought and water withdrawals from inflowing streams have caused Utah’s Great Salt Lake to shrink by 40%, recent study shows.
Since 1847, the Great Salt Lake has steadily receded, reaching its lowest recorded level in 2016. As of 2017, the lake is more than 3.6 meters below its 1847 level and just half its original volume. According to Wayne Witsbaugh, the primary author of the Decline of World’s Saline Lakes, these dramatic declines can be directly attributed to years of human interference – primarily, diverting river water, for agriculture and industry. Water that once spread across approximately 1,600 square miles now covers just 1,050 square miles.
The satellite images also show the effects on the Farmington Bay basin of the Great Salt Lake, an area of critical importance to diverse wildlife including migratory birds. Decreasing water levels in the Bay not only affect the local ecology, but can potentially divert bird populations that rely on the basin for food. Scientists have estimated that more than three-quarters of the lakebed is now exposed in the bay, significantly diminishing available food for wildlife.
“Farmington Bay has been nearly desiccated as the result of the combined effects of drought and water withdrawals,” Witsbaugh said in an interview with Live Science. “The Bay is an immensely important feeding area for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl.”
According to Wurtsbaugh, the ability to strike a cohesive balance between human consumption and conservation will ultimately help preserve the lake. In the study, the team identified that inflows to the Great Salt Lake will need to increase 24 to 29 percent to maintain its health and stability. With the population of Utah set to double by 2050, long-term conservation and planning is critical.
 Radhakrishnan, Suraj. Utah’s Great Sale Lake Has Lost Half its Water. November 6, 2017. Web. http://www.ibtimes.com/utahs-great-salt-lake-has-lost-half-its-water-study-2610861
 Deamer, Kacey. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is Shrinking. LiveScience, December 1, 2016. Web. https://www.livescience.com/57055-utah-great-salt-lake-shrinking.html
 Deamer. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is Shrinking. https://www.livescience.com/57055-utah-great-salt-lake-shrinking.html
 Radhakrishnan. Utah’s Great Sale Lake Has Lost Half its Water. http://www.ibtimes.com/utahs-great-salt-lake-has-lost-half-its-water-study-2610861
Image Credit: Flickr, Tracie Hall