The Great Salt Lake, or “America’s Dead Sea,” has reached alarmingly low levels. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted that he is collaborating with federal and state officials to pour resources into the lake. The lake has shrunk considerably over the years.

This lake has a rich and significant history, but it used to be called something else: Lake Bonneville. As efforts have been taken to save the lake, some social media advocates have reminded the public of the lake’s rich history and even created merchandise to highlight this.

Here’s a brief overview of the history of Lake Bonneville and the Great Salt Lake.

The Great Salt Lake is the largest inland salt lake in the Western Hemisphere. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the lake is the largest remnant of the prehistoric body of water Lake Bonneville. Other remnants of Lake Bonneville include Bear Lake and Utah Lake, as well as Sevier Lake and the Great Salt Lake Desert.

Lake Bonneville was an ancient lake that covered a vast 20,000 square miles, mostly in Utah but also part of Nevada and Idaho. Formed in the Pleistocene Epoch, mineral salts became trapped in this body of water because evaporation was the only way that water could escape.

According to geology.utah.gov, what was once the lake’s islands are now many of the mountain ranges found in western Utah. The water came from rivers, streams, melting glaciers and rain. Fish populated this prehistoric lake, but buffalo, bighorn sheep, musk oxen and mammoths came up to the shores.

This lake was thriving until it had a catastrophic flood.

The Utah Geological Survery experts said that approximately 16,800 years ago, the lake rose to a high elevation that caused a massive flood. After 600 years, the lake stabilized and eventually, the Provo shoreline was formed, but the lake never reached its massive size again.

The flood caused the Great Basin to become drier and drier, which led to the lake becoming smaller and smaller. This process led to the emergence of the Great Salt Lake.

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Even though Spanish missionaries learned of the lake’s existence from Indigenous people in 1776, they never saw the lake. “The first white person known to have visited the lake was Jim Bridger in 1825,” according to the Utah Geological Survey. “Other fur trappers, such as Etienne Provost, may have beaten Bridger to its shores, but there is no proof of this. The first scientific examination of the lake was undertaken in 1843 by John C. Fremont; this expedition included the legendary Kit Carson.”

According to Wasatch Magazine, Indigenous people have lived around the lake since the Archaic period. Darren Parry, former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, has spoken about the importance of this lake to the Shoshone people.

The shrinking of the lake has led to Utah facing “an environmental nuclear bomb” as The New York Times put it.

The Great Salt Lake is an iconic part of Utah, but resources are needed to save the lake. The Deseret News reported, “The Great Salt Lake Recovery Act passed in the U.S. Senate and would provide $10 million in funding to study the Great Salt Lake’s problems. Moore’s Saline Lakes in the Great Basin bill passed the House.”

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