The Great Salt Lake’s more exposed bed means increased dust storms, officials warn

The dust from the exposed parts of the lake has worried scientists and environmentalists.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The shore of the Great Salt Lake on Stansbury Island on Saturday March 26, 2022. The exposed lake beds are causing more dust storms.

Farmington Bay, Utah • More dust storms could blow into the Wasatch Front due to increasingly exposed seabed, world leaders warn.

“It’s common sense that if you uncover another 300 to 400 square miles of lake bed and the wind picks up, you’re going to have more dust,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said in an interview with FOX 13 News after his recent appearance at the Friends of Great Salt Lake Summit on the health and future of the vast lake.

Utah’s Air Quality Department told FOX 13 News it has growing concerns about the dust storms.

“A more exposed lake bed increases the potential for windblown dust. The dust can hit any town along the Wasatch Front depending on the direction and intensity of the wind,” Department Chief Bryce Bird said in a statement. “We typically see dust associated with spring and fall storm fronts and high winds pouring from microburst thunderstorms in summer. A recent April cold front filled the Salt Lake Valley with dust originating from the now dry Farmington Bay.”

The Great Salt Lake is expected to hit a new historic low this year. What is in the exposed lake bed is worrying scientists, environmentalists and political leaders. scientists have documented traces of arsenic and other chemicals that would normally be covered by water.

“Some of the materials you kick up in those dust storms? They are not healthy and so we need to monitor this closely. There’s a super simple solution: refill water to the bottom of the lake,” spokesman Wilson said.

The Davis County Department of Health said investigations into dust from the exposed lake bed are ongoing.

“For those who have more breathing difficulties, always pay attention to the air quality index. When particulate matter levels are high or when air quality is poor days, stay indoors,” said Jay Clark, the department’s environmental health director.

Getting more water into the lake would certainly stop the dust storms (and a dry Great Salt Lake represents an economic and environmental disaster for the state). At the moment, Politicians are looking at many different ways to ensure water keeps entering the lake. Legislators recently passed some bills to make it easier environmental groups and others to secure water for the lake. Under Utah law, water rights dating back to the 18th century exist in a “use it or lose it” system.

“If you don’t use your water wisely, it is considered wasted and should therefore be available for other people in the system to put to good use,” said Emily Lewis, water rights attorney at law firm Clyde Snow.

At the Friends of the Great Salt Lake Summit earlier this month, Lewis said it was a complicated issue.

“We need to think creatively about our existing laws and existing systems to incentivize smarter use of water,” she said.

Where water was once considered “wasted” and “useless” once it hits the terminal basin of the Great Salt Lake, that perspective is changing. The Great Salt Lake contributes to snow cover, is a sanctuary for millions of birds and generates billions in economic impact for the state, said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.

“We’ve known all along that it’s in many ways economically, hemispherically, environmentally… wonderfully,” she said.

Speaker Wilson said this is something that will likely be discussed ahead of next year’s legislature.

“I think that’s part of the conversation. Some of that is already happening with organizations acquiring and donating some of the water rights to the Great Salt Lake,” he said.

This article is published by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to educate people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to help make a difference before it’s too late. Read all of our stories below The Great Salt Lake’s more exposed bed means increased dust storms, officials warn

Joel McCord

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