Great Salt Lake Issues Forum

Every two years, FRIENDS hosts a Great Salt Lake Issues Forum. The purpose of the forum is to encourage constructive dialogue about the future of the Lake’s ecosystem and its resources, and to illuminate the complexities involved in research, management, and planning for the Lake. The forum also explores Great Salt Lake from many different angles and in many different contexts—far beyond its resource development potential—to emphasize its ecological values as well as its intrinsic values that have contributed to our history, culture, and spirit. 

The program includes resources from the region and hemisphere to share important insights from those systems that will help us—the home team—recognize how unique and critical Great Salt Lake is in that context. Program participants for the forum have included Owens Lake, Mono Lake, Salton Sea, Laguna Mar Chiquita, and the Dead Sea.

The 2024 forum includes a 3-day poster session, awarding of the 2024 Doyle W. Stephens Scholarship to a graduate and an undergraduate student engaged in new or ongoing research focusing on the Lake, and a Friday evening reception and banquet at the Alta Club, during which the 2024 Friend of the Lake Award will be presented.

In November 2022, Great Salt Lake reached a new historic low of 4,188.5’ asl. Salinity concentrations, the viability of the food web, productivity of the system, wildlife habitats, navigation, industrial operations, and public health from exposed lakebed dust were compromised. The recent appointment of a GSL Commissioner, who will be working watershed-wide on behalf of the Lake, and work being done by the Division of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation to develop a Great Salt Lake Basin Integrated Plan to ensure a resilient water supply for the Lake and all water uses throughout the watershed hold promise for effective and responsible decisions that will preserve and protect this Public Trust Resource.

Continuing concerns about climate change, projected population growth, and water needs for the future have spurred legislative tools, and a variety of reports that focus on water and Lake elevations. The GSL Commissioner’s Great Salt Lake Strategic Plan, Great Salt Lake Strike Team Policy Assessment, HCR-10 Concurrent Resolution to Address Declining Water Levels of Great Salt Lake (2019), and Recommendations to Ensure Adequate Water Flows to Great Salt Lake and Its Wetlands (December 2020) have significantly added to that traction and our sense of urgency by declaring that an effective response to Great Salt Lake’s decline must occur now.

Reports commissioned by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council: Consequences of Drying Lake Systems Around the World, and Assessment of Potential Costs of Declining Water Levels in Great Salt Lake, remind us that doing nothing is not an option.

The time is ripe to bring people together to engage in responsible and production discussions about Utah’s water future and how Great Salt Lake is included in that work. The future of Great Salt Lake is now and the 2024 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum is an opportunity to spotlight that.