Opinion: We’re making progress, but we must move fast to save the Great Salt Lake

The legislative session is over, but we need to implement water conservation measures today and start working on next year’s steps.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Great Salt Lake Marina, on Friday, December 29, 2023.

As a child, I remember driving across the causeway to Antelope Island and gazing at the endless water extending forever in both directions. I’m now an environmental science major at Brigham Young University, and I frequently hear about the ailing health of the Great Salt Lake. However, it wasn’t until a trip to the lake a few weeks ago that the scope of the problem came into focus.

What once was a causeway is now just a dusty road bordered by barren desert on both sides. Thankfully, this year saw more legislators than ever calling for more water to the lake. The question is, are we moving fast enough to reverse the lake’s decline?

In April 1987, the lake reached its highest recorded elevation of 4,211 feet above sea level, and we built pumps to protect the airport and other infrastructure we’d built in its footprint. However, due in part to diversion of the lake’s tributaries, the lake reached its historic minimum of 4,188 feet in November 2022, a difference of 23 feet.

The Great Salt Lake is now on life support. As the lake shrinks, its salt content rises, nearing the threshold that would disrupt the food chains that feed 10 million birds each year. The diminished lake exposes toxic dust on the lake bed that is already worsening Utah’s notorious air pollution.

Despite these dangers, I commonly receive pushback when I mention the lake’s decline. Many of my friends and family members think this is cyclic or out of our control. But those views don’t correspond with either my understanding of science or religion. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, such as myself, are urged to exercise our earthly stewardship for the betterment of those around us. In the October 2022 General Conference session Bishop Gérald Caussé remarked, “The care of the earth and of our natural environment is a sacred responsibility entrusted to us by God, which should fill us with a deep sense of duty and humility. It is also an integral component of our discipleship.”

One of the ways we can be good stewards of this unique waterbody is by supporting responsible legislation. I recently joined a citizen-led movement called Grow the Flow that aims to increase flow to the lake. I’ve found that many Utah legislators are pushing on the right side of this issue. Commonsense bills have been passed this legislative session to reduce water waste at government buildings, improve monitoring and work with water agencies to get water to the lake.

I would like to thank our leaders for their willingness to support bills that prioritize the health and well-being of their constituents and this beautiful corner of creation. While I know the biggest slice of the water use pie is agricultural use, it is encouraging to see cities and state governments leading by example. I know that the Great Salt Lake is vital to the health, pride and culture of our community.

The legislative session is over, but we need to implement water conservation measures today and start working on next year’s steps. More bills than ever before were passed during this legislative session, showing us that the Utah legislature is willing to make changes. This is the perfect opportunity for us to support stewardship of our irreplaceable lake. The difference between a big step forward and a less effective session could be you taking the time to let state representatives that we care about water conservation.

I appreciate all the work the Utah Legislature and the people of Utah are doing to preserve the lake. This is all important to the restoration of the lake’s ecosystem and protecting Utah as we know it. One day soon, I hope to recapture that feeling of wonder of driving across an inland sea.

(Photo courtesy of Christopher Rose) Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose is a senior studying environmental science and sustainability at Brigham Young University. He enjoys camping and hiking, and he hopes to work in sustainability in the future.

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