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This year's record-breaking weather helped save the Great Salt Lake — here's why experts are concerned that the impact won't stick around

The Utah lake has gained about six feet of water in the last two years.

The Utah lake has gained about six feet of water in the last two years.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Great Salt Lake's rising water level is concerning experts, who worry that it will lessen the urgency to save the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.

What's happening?

The Utah lake has gained about six feet of water in the last two years thanks to especially snowy winters and conservation efforts, the New York Times reported. But the comeback from a record low is uneven and may undo the successes of the last couple of years.

"I worry about complacency," Great Salt Lake Institute director Bonnie Baxter told the Times. "We need to really be cautious about being optimistic."

The lake, which is at 4,195 feet, must continue to rise to meet the minimum safety level.

The Times reported that the northern part of the lake remains near record lows and that summer heat and subsequent evaporation will cause a three-foot drop in water levels. Already threatened, the state's brine shrimp industry, the lake's ecosystem, and the public's health are at risk, the last because arsenic and other toxic chemicals in the lake bed could be blown airborne.

Why is the lake level important?

Lakes around the world rise and fall with the seasons, but the human-caused heating of Earth has resulted in more of the latter lately. Of the 1,972 largest bodies of water on the planet, 53% suffered storage declines from 1992 to 2020, according to one study.

A big problem with the Great Salt Lake is that water that could go to the lake is used by residents, and most of the state's population lives around the lake. Municipal water use had declined from 2022 to 2023, but this year, it is flat, according to the Times.

"There's less legislative action when we're getting more water," Baxter told the Times.

Rain barrel sales, another measure of public awareness, are down about 43% from 2022 and 2023. People who use the receptacles to collect rainwater use less municipal water.

"When we're in dry years, people change their behavior," Utah Rivers Council executive director Zachary Frankel said in the Times report. "In wet years they do not."

What's being done about the lake's low levels?

Politicians have taken action, passing laws to help preserve the lake, and the Times noted that shifts in citizen behavior could also help "sustain the lake over time." 

The state is granting subsidies to farmers if they upgrade their irrigation systems as well, but the stakeholders interviewed agreed that they have to keep up the pressure.

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