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Saving the Great Salt Lake

Futurists can predict possible events, but most of us are optimists who believe that you can change these events.

The situation in Utah is an example.

SCIENCE NEWS ran a detailed report (June 3, 2023) by Brianna Randall, titled “The Great (Shrinking) Salt Lake.” She listed the challenges:

  1. The Lake is at its lowest level since records were started.
  2. The Lake’s elevation has sunk 6 meters below its long-term average. It is now half of its historic surface area.
  3. Brigham Young University scientists believe that the Lake will disappear in 5 years if consumption continues at its present rate.
  4. The death or severe decline of salt lakes have occurred elsewhere. Lake Pogo in Bolivia is a salty mud flat. It was a 90 km long and 32 km wide a few years ago. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan is 1/10 of its former 68,000 sq km surface area. India’s Sambhar Salt Lake and Lake Chad show similar problems. Closer to Utah, Nevada’s Winnemucca Lake dried up years ago.

What steps should be taken to save the Great Salt Lake?

First recognize that global warming is not the biggest challenge. Rather it is the over use of scarce resources.

It does not appear if there is a coordinated approach in the area. Money is tossed about without a plan. Decisions are avoided that could significantly help, but will require sacrifice.

As Walt Kelly’s Pogo opined: “We has seen the enemy and he is ‘us”“

Three quarters of the water consumed irrigates crops to feed beef and dairy cows.

9 % is used for mineral extraction, specifically for salt.

9 % is used for homes and businesses, including green lawns, golf courses and swimming pools.

8 % is lost to evaporation.

Utah is the fastest growing state in the US, with 80% of the population living in the Lake’s watershed. Their citizens have the country’s second highest per capita use of water.

Some steps have been taken to help, but most ignore “low hanging fruit”. Most depend on voluntary compliance. The cost of tackling the problem now is low compared to inaction.

First, import hay to feed dairy and beef cattle. Move farmers to activities that use less water, such as dry farming; or greenhouse farming. Give farmers incentives to do this. If incentives do not work, implement emergency measures to reduce their water allocation. Again, farming takes up 3/4 of water use.

Second, make mandatory the installation of water meters for all residential, office, agriculture and industrial use. For residential, water consumption could be reduced by 30% or more. If you do not know what you are using, how can you monitor it.

Third, investigate which industries use the most water. Las Vagas did this and found out that a company cleaning wool was a big user. They worked with this company to clean and recycle water and reduce use.

Fourth, look at what other similar communities have done. Las Vagas has an excellent approach. Learn from them.

Fifth, consider planting trees and shrubs near the Great Salt Lake. This is being done in the Sahara Desert, as well as China, New Zealand, and Brazil. Trees and shrubs can retain water, offer shade (to reduce evaporation) and reduce wind.

Six, consider using floating solar panels to reduce evaporation and provide energy. Brazil has placed a 139-kilowatt floating photovoltaic system on the Passauna Reservoir in the south. It has reduced evaporation by 60% but only covers .019% of the reservoir.

Seven, review how much water is used by utilities to generate electricity and how much can be recaptured and reused.

Eight, forbid green lawns in the watershed and convert to xeriscaping. Encourage corporations, governments and influencers to use xeriscaping to make this fashionable. Xeriscaping is a fancy word for landscaping an area using soil, rocks, mulch, and drought tolerant native plants. The idea is to use little or no watering.

I believe there are ten municipal golf courses in Salt Lake. The city could convert these courses as well.

In addition, many homes have swimming pools. Restrict the use of these pools until the crisis is over.

Nine, check the water pumped into water mains to identify leaks. In other locations, 1 out of 6 gallons is lost to leaks.

Leaks can be found with smart water systems that use acoustical devices to listen for signatures of a leak or small id changes in pressure.

Ten, recycle water for toilets and by using toilets which use water more efficiency. Toilets are big consumers of water.

Eleven, consider filtering excess water to reinject the water table.

Most of these suggestions are not costly; they only require political will and co-operation.

But time is against saving the Great Salt Lake, so start tomorrow.

As a futurist, I believe that predicting possible futures is part of my work. We have the ability, as well, to change that future for the better.

Bob Chernow is a futurist. At one time he chaired the Milwaukee River Nob-Point Pollution Commission that cleaned up the Milwaukee River. The key: co-operation.

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