What happens if the Great Salt Lake dries up?

Less press has been given to this body of water than to Lakes Mead or Powell, but the famous lake near Salt Lake City is disappearing and that could be a disaster:

Last summer, the water level in the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest point on record, and it’s likely to fall further this year. The lake’s surface area, which covered about 3,300 square miles in the late 1980s, has since shrunk to less than 1,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The salt content in the part of the lake closest to Salt Lake City used to fluctuate between 9 percent and 12 percent, according to Bonnie Baxter, a biology professor at Westminster College. But as the water in the lake drops, its salt content has increased. If it reaches 17 percent — something Dr. Baxter says will happen this summer — the algae in the water will struggle, threatening the brine shrimp that consume it.

While the ecosystem hasn’t collapsed yet, Dr. Baxter said, “we’re at the precipice. It’s terrifying.”

Much of the American West and Southwest should have stopped their relentless development long ago. It’s reaching the point where much of it may soon have no choice about the matter. You can’t build if there is no water.

I have friends who, every year while the Midwest and Plains are suffering through winter, post snarky pictures of themselves lolling around pools and greenery in Southern California and Arizona.

And I always think the same thing: “Enjoy it while you can. It won’t last much longer.”

BTW, great photography accompanies this story.

The Great Salt Lake in 1987 (left) and in 2021 on the right.

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