Climate change has helped turn Utah's Great Salt Lake into 'a puddle of its former self'

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Climate change is taking a toll on Utah's Great Salt Lake, rendering it “a puddle of its former self,” according to a new report published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Despite still being depicted on most maps in its former glory, the lake has shrunk dramatically and now holds only half as much as its historical average, the paper reported. Utah is one of several Western states experiencing extreme drought conditions that researchers have linked to climate change, and in July the lake’s water level hit a new low.

In the West, water issues have long been a part of the political landscape, and in September, Rep. Blake Moore and Sen. Mitt Romney, both Utah Republicans, introduced legislation to spend $25 million to monitor the water system that feeds the Great Salt Lake.

“Its water levels are at their lowest in recorded history, leading to a loss of habitat, decreased water flows, and air quality issues,” Moore said in a press release. “Unfortunately, saline lakes in Great Basin states are facing these same challenges.”

Climate change is a major driver behind the rate at which the Great Salt Lake is disappearing, but human diversion of tributaries that empty into it has also affected its water level. The result, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, is that more shoreline is now being exposed, threatening the brine shrimp that live in what remains of the lake and the birds that rely on them for food.

The Great Salt Lake
An area of the Great Salt Lake that was previously underwater is now completely dry. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

While the lake’s water is not drinkable for humans, it is home to an ecosystem that benefits them. Lake-effect snowstorms, for instance, help generate water for much of the surrounding area. The exposed dry lake, meanwhile, poses a threat to the air quality in Salt Lake City, the Tribune reported, and is adding more dust into the snowpack, causing it to melt earlier in the year, further disrupting the supply of water in the surrounding ecosystem.

It’s a cascading sequence of events that scientists have long warned about.

“As we change the climate, we have learned over the last many decades that we are also going to fundamentally change how much water we get and where we get it, the intensity of storms, rainfall patterns, the severity of droughts and floods, the demand for water from crops and from our natural vegetation,” climate scientist Peter Gleick told Yahoo News on a recent “Climate Crisis” podcast.

The effects of climate change on Salt Lake City are no longer theoretical, and last week Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called the lake’s falling water level “an all-hands-on-deck issue.”

The reality of how humans are hastening the demise of the Great Salt Lake can't be ignored anymore, and weather forecasting entities like AccuWeather have decided to reflect the situation with their maps.

“AccuWeather is committed to accurately depicting the boundaries of lakes to highlight the impact of climate change on our changing world,” the media company said in a statement.


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