A team of 32 scientists and conservationists caution that the lake could decline beyond recognition in just five years. Their warning is especially urgent amid a historic western megadrought fueled by global heating. To save the lake, the report suggests 30-50% reductions in water use may be required, to allow 2.5m acre-feet of water to flow from streams and rivers directly into the lake over the next two years.
“We really need to increase the speed of our response, and also increase our ambition for how much water we restore to the lake,” said Ben Abbott, an ecologist at Brigham Young University and one of the report’s lead authors.
Despite growing political momentum, Abbott said that existing policies and action plans will not be enough to save the lake from collapse. Already, the lake has lost 73% of its water and 60% of its surface area, as trillions of litres of water are diverted away from it to supply farms and homes. As a result, the lake is becoming saltier and uninhabitable to native flies and brine shrimp. Eventually, the lake will be unable to sustain the more than 10 million migratory birds and wildlife that frequent the lake.
Declining lake levels could also make magnesium, lithium and other critical minerals extraction infeasible within the next two years. Dust from the exposed lakebed could further damage crops, degrade soil and cause snow to melt more quickly – triggering widespread economic losses for Utah’s agriculture and tourism industries. Toxic sediment, laced with arsenic, from the lakebed can exacerbate respiratory conditions and heart and lung disease, and could increase residents’ risk for cancer.