Utah Faces Unprecedented Environmental Issues
In Salt Lake City, Utah, environmentalists are beginning to worry about an environmental issue never considered before. The Great Salt Lake, which has already shrunk by two-thirds, continues to dry up. If the lake does continue evaporating, there would be multiple consequences, including the loss of all the lake’s bugs and brine shrimp, which would threaten the 10 million birds who stop at the lake to feed during their annual migration south. Ski conditions and snowpack at the ski resorts above Salt Lake City would continue to deteriorate, which would reduce tourism and revenue for the city, as these resorts are some of the most desirable destinations for skiers worldwide.
These two possible consequences alone are very serious and threaten the wellbeing of Utah’s entire ecosystem, but there is a much more serious issue if the Salt Lake does continue to dry up. The lake bed contains high levels of arsenic, and as the lake continues evaporating, more of this lake bed becomes exposed. Now when a wind storm blows through the area, it would pick up this arsenic and carry it into Salt Lake City, which contains three-fourths of Utah’s population.
Salt Lake City is one of America’s fastest-growing urban areas and is home to more than 2.5 million people. This means that 2.5 million people could be exposed to arsenic poisoning as early as this summer, which is extremely toxic to humans. Long-term exposure can lead to irritated and swollen skin, nausea, abnormal heart rhythms, a constant sore throat, and extreme poisoning leads to death, according to Healthline. Residents and lawmakers are starting to take notice of this toxic ticking time bomb sitting less than ten miles from their homes. In an interview with the New York Times, a Republican lawmaker and rancher Joel Ferry said, “We have this potential environmental nuclear bomb that’s going to go off if we don’t take some pretty dramatic action.” Reflective of climate change, this is a complicated issue with a complicated solution, which would negatively affect some people and their livelihoods.
The cause of the continued shrinking of the salt lake is relatively simple, because of Salt Lake City’s rapid and continuous population growth, more and more fresh water is needed for the people. Saving the Salt Lake would require more of the snowmelt from the mountains east of the city to flow into the lake, which would mean less water for residents and farmers living in the area. The snow feeds into three rivers, the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers, which provide water for all the nearby cities and towns before flowing into the salt lake.
As these areas have increased in population, less water is reaching the salt lake, which explains the shrinkage. Keeping the salt lake is vital for precipitation because in the winter storms absorb some of the water, which in turn results in more snowfall in the mountains. If the lake continues to shrink, so will snowfall, which will mean less water. To stop this cycle, Utah lawmakers need to prioritize the lake, and let more water from the three rivers flow into it- even if that means farmers will have a few bad years. In the long run, if the lake is somewhat replenished, there will be more water for the farmers and residents.
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