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One of America’s most famous lakes is disappearing. Utah’s next governor can help

Imagine Northern Utah without the Great Salt Lake. The consequences would be enormous

SHARE One of America’s most famous lakes is disappearing. Utah’s next governor can help

Water recedes at the Great Salt Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. A new study shows water conservation could put off the need for new water development by as long as 2065 and help save the dwindling Great Salt Lake.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Green lawns will soon need to become a thing of the past in Northern Utah, difficult though that may be for many who have a traditional view of the suburban family home. Also, the average new home lot will need to shrink by 14% to 24%.

Without these measures, the Great Salt Lake, one of the region’s environmental, tourism and economic giants, will continue to dwindle away. Currently, it is shrinking because of drought and diversions upstream to handle growth in Utah’s largest metropolitan areas. 

Imagine Northern Utah without the lake. The consequences would be enormous. It serves as an ecosystem to millions of birds and other wildlife. It often creates its own localized weather patterns that provide much-needed snow to Wasatch Front mountains. Its loss could cost the state’s economy more than $2 billion a year and 6,500 jobs in the mineral, brine shrimp and tourism industries. 

The more the lake dries away, the greater the risks of dust storms accentuated by the dry lake bed, which could create environmental and health dangers in populated areas.

Saving the lake ought to become a priority of the new administration of Utah Gov.-elect Spencer Cox. 

A new report by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, called The Conservation Impacts Study, recommends the changes in lot sizes and landscaping. It also suggests converting all indoor plumbing fixtures and appliances to modern high-efficiency models, implementing secondary water metering and increasing irrigation efficiency to near 100% of the best expected standards.

The fixtures and irrigation standards will be relatively easy compared to the psychological changes needed to embrace home and business landscaping that is limited to 20% or less turfgrasses. Wasatch Front residents have, for generations, cultivated and tended green lawns that provide cooling in the summer and enhance a home’s aesthetic appeal.

But it would be a bigger psychological blow to watch the capital city’s namesake dwindle away to nothing. As a recent Deseret News report noted, other saline lakes, such as the Dead Sea, Iran’s Urmia and Bakhtegan lakes, the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and others also are dwindling, for various reasons. 

In Utah, the news is not all bad. The report notes that the planned Bear River Development Project, once thought to be necessary by 2015 to handle a growing population, has been postponed because of water conservation, new technologies and smaller water projects.

The report says this large project could be delayed until past 2065, despite the state’s projected growth rate, if Utahns would embrace more water-saving methods. The Bear River is one of three major tributaries that feed the lake.

Also, a younger generation seems to be embracing high-density housing to a greater degree than previous generations, which in turn requires less water for landscaping and other uses.

Still, more needs to be done. Lake levels currently hover around the 4,191.78 feet level, which is near an all-time low.

Given the lake’s importance to the region, its problems ought to set off alarm bells among policymakers. The report said all stakeholders need to work together to solve the problem, but that this won’t likely happen without leadership at the state level to coordinate efforts.

That’s where a Cox-administration emphasis would help. Utah can’t afford to lose its most famous lake.