What makes the Great Salt Lake experience different but alike to California’s Owens Lake

Five things you need to know about what makes Owens Lake in California different, but similar to Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News) Arrash Agahi, who oversees regulatory compliance of Owens Lake for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, looks at an area of the lakebed that has been converted to a brine pool to reduce blowing dust while giving journalists a tour of the project area on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.

Editor’s noteThis Great Salt Lake Collaborative story is part of day two of our series, “At water’s edge: Searching for solutions at the Great Salt Lake’s sister lakes across the Great Basin.” The in-depth project features the work of multiple journalists from multiple Utah news organizations. Read additional stories and view photos, videos and interactive maps at https://greatsaltlakenews.org.

1. Like Owens Lake, the Great Salt Lake is a terminal saline lake in the Great Basin. The basin covers more than 200,000 square miles and is under duress. But unlike Owens Lake, which dried up in 1926 due to diversion of its tributaries, the Great Salt Lake remains half-full and still has a fighting chance.

2. The dust caused by the dried-up Owens Lake in California created the nation’s worst source of PM10 pollution, leading to federal regulatory controls and an extensive monitoring system. There is no such framework in place for the Great Salt Lake, although officials acknowledge blowing dust off the exposed lakebed is a problem. Much of the exposed lakebed of the Great Salt Lake is a hard crust which, unless disturbed, is a far less ominous problem than Owens Lake.

[To view photos, videos and interactive maps, click here.]

3. The Great Salt Lake, the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere, is 12 times larger than Owens Lake in California. The sheer scope of the problem caused by a dying lake in Utah has the potential to enormously eclipse what happened in California.

4. Both lakes are remnants of the ice age and are part of a loosely connected network of 20 saline, terminal lakes in the Great Basin that is bounded on the east by the Wasatch Front, and the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges to the west.

5. There is a smattering of small towns and communities impacted by Owens Lake pollution, affecting an estimated 40,000 people. In contrast, 2.6 million Utahns — most of the state’s population — live along the Wasatch Front and are vulnerable to the dying Great Salt Lake.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.