Environews, Minis

Environews: Great Salt Lake Issues

By Amy Brunvand

The Great Salt Lake Issues Forum, held every other year by Friends of Great Salt Lake, brings together scientists, government agencies, business, recreation and conservation interests to discuss the complex environmental, social and political issues surrounding our beloved big, stinky lake.

With Great Salt Lake at historically low levels, the takeaway from the May 2016 conference: It’s far better (and cheaper) to avoid destroying the lake ecosystem in the first place than to try to repair damage after the fact. Major themes from the conference were:

• Great Salt Lake birds are not “Utah” birds but are global flocks that migrate across the whole hemisphere. Without Great Salt Lake habitat, entire species of migrating shorebirds could collapse.

• Dewatering is the greatest threat to the lake. The proposed Bear River development is a particularly malign threat.

• We can learn from the history of other saline lakes, in particular Owens Lake and Mono Lake in Cali­fornia. Not only is dewatering devastating for birds that depend on habitat, dust blowing off of a dry lake bed creates serious (and expensive) air pollution problems.

• Other threats to Great Salt Lake include the West Davis Corridor freeway expansion, prison relocation into Great Salt Lake wetlands, airport expansion and the U.S. Magnesium Superfund site in Tooele County.

• Underlying all other issues is the prediction of population growth for the state. Unfortunately, planning agencies tend to assume that people will continue to be as wasteful of resources as we are today and to undervalue wildlife, recreation and ecosystem services.

Friends of Great Salt Lake: fogsl.org

This article was originally published on June 28, 2016.