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The School of UnLearning: Activism
Activism

Save Our Great Salt Lake

The Eco Crisis Threatening CRUDE’s Home

The Great Salt Lake is drying up.

As it does, an increasing amount of decades’ worth of industrial waste and pesticides - along with the arsenic naturally found in Utah soil - blows across the Wasatch Front, exposing millions to a toxic, irritating dust. This dust coats everything from the lungs of the people living nearby to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Landing on winter snowfall, the dust darkens snow causing it to melt faster, reducing the length of our ski seasons, while also contaminating the melted runoff that provides Utah with its drinkable water.

Without urgent action, Great Salt Lake is on its way to becoming one of the largest dust emission sources in North America.

If that sounds a little too much like the apocalyptic landscapes of Mad Max or Tank Girl, that’s because the situation is comparably dire. This impending ecological crisis is on its way - and it begs the questions How did we get here and What are we going to do about it?

Depiction of shrinking Great Salt Lake elevation: from 4,211 feet in 1986, to 4,202 feet in 2000, to 4,191 feet in 2021, a record low

"'DUST BOWL' IS UNDERSTATING IT...WE HAVE TO GET OUR HEAD AROUND THIS NOW."

- DR. BONNIE BAXTER, DIRECTOR OF GREAT SALT LAKE INSTITUTE


Where the Great Salt Lake’s Water Ends Up

While climate change’s effects on Utah’s ecology have been well documented, Great Salt Lake’s water has largely been depleted by human consumption. According to one University of Utah study, if it weren’t for water diversions, the Great Salt Lake could be well over 11 feet higher.

Over 60% of water diverted from the lake and 82% of Utah’s total water supply is devoted to agriculture, which only makes up 2.3% of Utah's total GDP.. Comparably, residential use accounts for a mere 10% of Utah’s water supply. Much of the agricultural water is being used to grow alfalfa hay, a particularly thirsty crop which consumes more water per year than every city and town in the state combined. The majority of alfalfa grown in Utah is shipped to China or other states for dairy cattle — essentially, Utah is exporting one of its most precious natural resources for the profit of private companies.

And despite the desert climate, Utah has few water conservation incentives on either municipal or industrial levels. In fact, Utah has the highest per person municipal water use in America.

The price of water in Utah is 'artificially low,' according to Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council. This is largely due to the fact that most water districts are heavily subsidized by property taxes. Water wholesalers funded through property taxes tend to store and treat water before selling it to municipalities, allowing water departments to charge less for the utility. What’s more, some of the biggest water users in Utah - churches, schools, and municipal golf courses - are exempt from property taxes, pushing the burden of cost onto local homeowners.


"WE DON'T REALLY HAVE A WATER CRISIS, PER SE, WE HAVE A WATER MANAGEMENT CRISIS."

- DAN MCCOOL, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH


Where We Go From Here

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Experts and Great Salt Lake-focused organizations like FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake and Utah Rivers Council have been researching this issue for decades and providing strategies and solutions to get more water to the lake. But, we need our legislators to heed their guidance!

There are actionable, achievable steps to take to mitigate this crisis and you can be a part of it! We’re building a coalition of organizers, artists, business owners, and concerned citizens to advocate for our great lake. Save Our Great Salt Lake is working to educate and engage communities to ensure legislative action is taken to prevent ecosystem collapse at Great Salt Lake.

Here are a few of our demands:

  • Reduce water diversion to the lake by 30% - A study from Utah State University says that to maintain lake levels, diverting water from rivers that flow into it would have to decrease by 30%. But for the state with the nation’s fastest-growing population, addressing the problem will require a major shift in water allocation and public perception of the lake.
  • Oppose the Bear River development project - Utah’s proposal to divert the Bear River upstream of Great Salt Lake would dry up tens of thousands of acres of the West’s largest remaining wetland ecosystem and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
  • Enforce mandatory water metering - Water metering is a simple and immediate way to monitor usage and encourage conservation. Studies show that when people are aware of how much water they use, they reduce consumption.
  • Eliminate property tax subsidies of water - No one wants to pay more in utility bills, but the artificially low cost of water allows constant, widespread waste. Adjusting the price of water to reflect its true cost encourages conservation and improved planning.
  • Require developers to present long-range and sustainable water sourcing plans - Developers must commit to metering and reporting water usage and limit future developments that don’t meet a critical housing need.

What You Can Do

The Great Salt Lake needs your help in advocating for meaningful policy change to protect its waters and our community from the dangers of a dry lake bed. You can get involved by spreading the word about the Salt Lake (follow @livecrude and @saveourgreatsaltlake for updates!) and contacting your public officials to let them know that saving Great Salt Lake is a priority to their constituents and community.

Click HERE to sign Save Our Great Salt Lake’s petition to the Utah State Legislature ahead of their January 2022 legislative session.

It’s not too late to protect Great Salt Lake and prevent more damage to Utah’s ecology, economy, and communities. Together, we can change the future and protect this precious resource for generations to come.


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