“The lake is shrinking faster and faster, and we’ve got to be paying a lot of attention to that…my top priority as Speaker right now is to address these water needs in the state and particularly the Great Salt Lake. The reason is, it’s going to dramatically affect the quality of life of Utahns if we don’t fix this. We’ve got to do a lot of things differently over the course of the next decade if we’re going to change the trajectory.“– Brad Wilson, Speaker of Utah’s House of Representatives
In terms of serious environmental risks in the United States, I would rank the diminishing Great Salt Lake in Utah near the top of the list. In July, the Great Salt Lake reached the lowest level in its recorded history. In one of the fastest-growing states in the country, this is an ominous sign. FOX 13 reports that Speaker Brad Wilson said the costs of having the lake go dry would be at least $32 billion and could lead to significant environmental and health issues. Brad said the following on what they should currently spend to fix the Great Salt Lake:
“The proactive solution is billions. The reactive solution if we don’t try to fix it is tens and tens of billions. So let’s spend the billions over the course of the next five to 10 years and not worry about the $30-plus billion 20 years from now when it’s too late.”
Previous reporting from the New York Times has found that if the lake were to completely dry up, the lakebed could unearth toxic dust that consists of arsenic, copper, and other toxic metals you probably don’t want in your lungs. Arguably, this situation is already unfolding, but not enough scientific research has been done to know whether this is a certainty. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver also touched on the water crisis, and discussed various reasons why it’s gotten so serious, which include HOAs forcing homeowners to water their lawns, along with the ridiculous amount of water that goes towards agricultural purposes.
There are bills in the State of Utah that have been recently passed to help out the situation. This year, the state legislature passed multiple bills to protect the Great Salt Lake, including giving $40 million to environmentalist groups in order for them to secure water rights for the Great Salt Lake. This October, the state will host another summit with local leaders to brainstorm ideas to save it.
In January 2023, more bills will be prioritized in Utah’s legislative session. One idea being considered is “for expanded secondary water metering, which tracks — and could potentially charge — for how much outdoor watering people do.” Some other options that are being floated include a controversial Bear River pipeline, cloud seeding, and a saltwater pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake. Additionally, Senator Mitt Romney has proposed a bill to Congress to help save the Great Salt Lake.
The reality is that the diminishing Great Salt Lake won’t be saved without sacrifices from farmers. Each spring, all the water from the Wasatch Mountains goes through the valley, and eventually, into the lake. The issue is that most of this water never makes it to the lake because it’s used for human consumption and agricultural purposes. There are estimates that two-thirds to three-quarters of Utah water consumption is dedicated to irrigation.
You can complain about swimming pools, excessive homes with a ridiculous amount of bathrooms, HOAs forcing people to water their lawns, and golf courses in the middle of the freaking desert. All of these habits need to change for Utah’s viability. In spite of all these head-scratching habits, farmers still use the most amount of water in the state. Brad Wilson did say one priority in the future will be investing in water optimization, which is “new technologies to water crops.” They can say that they’re making changes, but the urgency from them isn’t there.
Can the Great Salt Lake be saved? At least Brad Wilson said these mildly encouraging words: “We’re not at a point of no return.”