July 07, 2021

Wildlife, air quality at risk as Great Salt Lake nears low

By Lindsay Whitehurst | AP (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

July 5, 2021 at 11:14 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The silvery blue waters of the Great Salt Lake sprawl across the Utah desert, having covered an area nearly the size of Delaware for much of history. For years, though, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River has been shrinking. And a drought gripping the American West could make this year the worst yet.

The receding water is already affecting the nesting spot of pelicans that are among the millions of birds dependent on the lake. Sailboats have been hoisted out of the water to keep them from getting stuck in the mud. More dry lakebed getting exposed could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.

“A lot us have been talking about the lake as flatlining,” said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake.

The lake’s levels are expected to hit a 170-year low this year. It comes as the drought has the U.S. West bracing for a brutal wildfire season and coping with already low reservoirs. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, has begged people to cut back on lawn watering and “pray for rain.”

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