Utah lawmakers are considering steps to save the Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake, the largest natural lake in America west of the Mississippi, has reached its lowest level on record. Utah officials and lawmakers say the state needs to take serious action to prevent further declines in lake levels.

The current state of the Great Salt Lake follows severe dry conditions affecting Utah and other western states. Water was also taken from the lake to supply homes and crops in Utah, one of the fastest growing states in the country. Utah is also one of the driest US states, but its water consumption is high.

The sharp drop in the lake level has raised concerns in the state about harmful dust, environmental damage and economic problems.

Sailboats sit in dry dock at the Great Salt Lake Marina Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, near Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Further water losses are expected to pose serious risks to millions of migratory birds. It could also harm an estimated $1.3 billion lake-based economy. Economic activities include the production of minerals and brine shrimp and Recreation. Health experts also worry that a dry lake bed could send toxic dust into the air that millions of people breathe.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox has offered to spend $46 million to help solve the Great Salt Lake problems. Key lawmakers have also backed major spending to improve lake conditions.

One proposal would seek to restrict water use in homes and businesses. Another would pay farmers to share their water. A third would direct money from mineral production activities to programs to improve the lake.

The Great Salt Lake is seen behind the earthwork Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, on the northeast shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Great Salt Lake is seen behind the earthwork Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, on the northeast shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“I look forward taken for granted Lake. He’s always been there, and I assumed he would still be here,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said at a special meeting held to discuss the matter. But learning of the deteriorating position of the lake over the summer left him spooked. “The Great Salt Lake is in trouble. … We have to do something,” Wilson said.

Zach Frankel is director of the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council. He told The Associated Press he believes major action is needed to save the Great Salt Lake. “It’s not going to be done in small steps. These are tiny baby steps that should have been taken 20 years ago,” Frankel said.

The lower levels of the lake have resulted in a reduction of underwater structures containing microorganisms that brine shrimp depend on for food.

Mud surrounds the boat dock Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, in Antelope Island, Utah.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Mud surrounds the boat dock Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, in Antelope Island, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Shrimp support a multi-million dollar industry that provides food for fish farms. It also provides nutrients to millions of migrating birds that may show up on radar. The Great Salt Lake is also the country’s largest source of magnesium and could soon provide lithium, a key mineral for manufacturing batteries.

But last year, the lake hit a 170-year high and has been steadily declining. It reached a new low of 1,277.2 meters in October. As a result, a large amount of microorganisms necessary for the health of brine shrimp were damaged by the air. Death will likely take years to mend even if they are completely covered in water again, Michael Vanden Berg said. He’s a Utah state geologist.

The Great Salt Lake is shown behind a bison Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, on Antelope Island, Utah.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Great Salt Lake is shown behind a bison Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, on Antelope Island, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

If water levels continue to drop, the lake could become too salty for microorganisms to survive. This has happened before in the bright pink waters of the lake’s North Arm.

Still, Vanden Berg still holds out hope for the South Arm, where some of the microorganisms survived last year’s lake fall. “It’s bad but not catastrophic again,” he said. “There is still time to repair and mitigate the situation.”

I am Brian Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

Recreation – nm activities people do for fun when not working

take for granted – phr. believing something is true without checking or thinking about it

suppose – v. believe something might be true, although you have no evidence to support that belief

drums – nm a device that supplies and stores electricity for things

catastrophic – adj. causing much suffering or destruction

mitigate – v. reduce the harmful effects of something

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