Is the Great Salt Lake in danger?

If the flies and small crustaceans of the Greater Salt Lake begin to die en masse, it is the 10 million migratory birds that stop there each year that they will lose their food supply. Moreover, because the bottom of the lake contains arsenic, and Other residues from mining activities In the area, if the lake was so dry that this land was left in the open air, windstorms would carry it all into the lungs of the residents of Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, and other cities.

Even without mine remnants, sandstorms Not good news for anyone with asthma anyway.

As explained in a recent report The The New York TimesAnd the The solutions are known, but it is not easy to apply. Much of the lake’s water comes from melting ice, so it seems that drawing less water from the three great rivers flowing from the mountains is the law. But this water also supplies the 2.5 million residents around the lake, as well as farmers in the area. This is in an area on the edge of a large desert.

Contrary to what is often heard in the United States, this is not a struggle between those who “believe” in global warming and others: some Republicans elected in Utah are in the lead. The scene of the struggle to mitigate global warming. The effects of drought in the future. But it comes against economic interests – agricultural in particular – and political interests – local urban growth and reluctance Face water pricing.

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Last summer, in July 2021, the water level of the Great Salt Lake Reached a new recordIt is the lowest level since such measures began in 1875. Experts predict that this record will be broken again this summer.

30 years ago, the surface of the lake reached 5,500 square kilometers. Now, depending on the calculation method used – the average area of ​​the last 5 years or the last 10 years? – We get different numbers, but US Geological Office Today it gives it less than 1,600 square kilometers.

And since it’s not called a “salt” lake for nothing, its shrinkage has another measurable consequence: the salt content, which ranges between 9 and 12% near Salt Lake City, could soon reach a critical level – set at 17 % by biologist interrogated by times– From which the ecosystem begins to collapse: Algae numbers will decrease, threatening the survival of the small crustaceans that feed on them.

Climate change has had two effects in recent years, both of which are expected: On the one hand, due to rising temperatures, more snow evaporates before it even reaches the lake. On the other hand, heat waves increase the demand of residents and farmers for water to irrigate their fields or lawns. A third phenomenon has been added to this recently: as the lake shrinks, the moisture that passes over it decreases until it reaches the mountains, and therefore less snow remains at the end of winter. Lake.

picture: Left, lake in December 1988. Right, in September 2021, with just over 1,300 square kilometers exposed outdoors / Utah State University

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