Wayne Wurtsbaugh

Professor in the Watershed Sciences Department and Ecology Center

Utah State University


Dr.Wayne Wurtsbaugh is a professor in the Watershed Sciences Department and the Ecology Center at Utah State University.  His research and teaching interests are in the areas of limnology, water pollution and fisheries.  Dr. Wurtsbaugh has a B.S. in Fisheries from the University of California, Davis (UCD), an M.S. in Fisheries and Water Quality from Oregon State University, and a Ph.D. in Ecology from UCD.  He has 47 years of experience in research and teaching in the field of aquatic ecology.  He has worked internationally on four continents utilizing environmental monitoring, large-scale field experiments, and laboratory assays to address both basic and applied research questions. He has been working on the Great Salt Lake for 32 years conducting studies on brine shrimp, eutrophication, contaminants and the lake’s hydrology.  He has published over 90 papers in scientific journals, and numerous reports to state and federal agencies concerned with the Great Salt Lake.

Panelist: Panel on Proposed Bear River Water Development

3:35-4:50pm Thursday, May 12th

Title:  Dry Lake City:  Water Development and the Great Salt Lake

Wayne Wurtsbaugh1, Craig Miller2, Sarah Null1, Peter Wilcock1, Maura Hahnenberger3, Frank Howe1,4

Utah State University1; 2Utah Division of Water Resources; 3Salt Lake Community College; 4Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Abstract: Droughts and floods produce cyclic fluctuations in the elevation of Great Salt Lake, but over the last 165 years there has been little long-term change in precipitation and streamflow.  In contrast, persistent consumptive water uses for agriculture, municipalities and salt production ponds, have reduced the lake level over 10 feet, decreased its volume nearly 50%, increased lake salinity, and exposed approximately 50% of the lake bed.  This has increased wind-blown dust, impaired the use of marinas, and caused costly logistical constraints for the mineral extraction industry. Shallow Bear River Bay and Farmington Bay have been particularly impacted by desiccation, thus reducing wetland habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Consumptive water uses reduce freshwater inflows, which in turn increase the salinity of the lake and impact the production of brine shrimp that support a multi-million dollar industry and are an important food source for the millions of birds that rely on the lake.  Additional water development in the basin, exacerbated by long-term climate variability, may further reduce the lake’s level unless conservation and mitigation efforts are increased for urban, industrial, and especially agricultural uses. Utah must consider how water developments in the past, and those proposed for the future, affect the lake and the important resources it provides.  Reversing the trends of past consumptive use and restoring the lake will be a challenge for the future.