The Death of The Great Salt Lake

Where will the birds go?

The Death of The Great Salt Lake
Photo by Patrick Hendry / Unsplash

The Great Salt Lake in Utah is drying up. Just like Lake Mead and so many other bodies of water in the Southwest, it’s dying thanks to climate change. I’m not making this up, we’re seeing the death of the Great Salt Lake happen in real-time, a prime nesting and migratory stopover for so many birds.

Scientists are warning that the Great Salt Lake could disappear in 5 years if we don’t do anything to curb consumption.

The lake’s levels have been at record lows for two years in a row. If the water continues to drop at the same rate that it has since 2020, “the lake as we know it is on track to disappear in five years,” the report states.

The BYU report (link above) is damn right scary, so much water is being diverted that the lake levels have dropped to unprecedented low levels.

Scientists are warning that the environmental and economic consequences can’t be reversed unless 1 million acre-feet of water is allowed to flow back into the lake.

Will it get done? I certainly hope so.

A Great Salt Lake night

I visited the Great Salt Lake only once, and it was only on the periphery of Route 80. My friend and I were driving cross country from the NY/NJ area and we were exhausted driving through Salt Lake City. I don’t remember what time it was but it was late, very late.

The interstate wound around the southern edge as a nearly full moon rose high into the night sky. I remember seeing the flat land glow white in the pale light of the moon. There were tufts of grass lining the edge of the highway and in my sleep-deprived state, they looked like a line of gophers saluting me, as I sped by at 80 miles per hour.

I was going to crash our car if I didn’t get some sleep.

I woke up my friend and told him I was too tired to drive. We switched seats and he drove for another 10 minutes till he pulled over to a back road exit. I asked him what happened. His response? “I just drove under a bridge that wasn’t there.”

We slept on the side of the road, at the edge of the Great Salt Lake that night.

Big dying lake

The Great Salt Lake is a refuge for over 10 million migratory birds. It’s a fragile and rare ecosystem in the desert that provides over 1.3 billion dollars of economic activity each year.

The lake is fed by three main rivers, the Bear, Jordan, and Weber rivers. The lake is relatively shallow, only 16 feet deep on average but its surface area has been shrinking. Wikipedia reports that the lake once occupied 3,300 square miles in 1987. In July 2022, it only occupied 950 square miles.

Scientists and activists are screaming. I’m screaming too! The lake is barely holding on by a thread.

Fuck the Great Salt Lake birds

Last year I read an amazing book by the author Terry Tempest Williams. Titled, “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” it’s a book about the author’s relationship with her family and place in the Great Salt Lake region. As an ornithologist and environmental activist, she starts each chapter with the water level of the Great Salt Lake.

Throughout the book, she weaves and connects how important the Great Salt Lake is to her, her family, and the fragile ecosystem. She highlights how the various diversion systems built but the State of Utah have affected the water levels and bird populations.

While she doesn’t expressly write it, the undertone to all these public work projects that control Nature is to keep that woman in the global kitchen — so to speak. It’s always “jobs first and fuck Nature last.”

That’s the way of this world, right now. We need jobs, money, and the economy. We have to choose that first over the ecosystem. After all, you’ve seen one bird you’ve seen them all, right?

We all need those cheap flat-screen TVs to watch the Kardashians fuck around and keep us all in dwindling bread and more circus.

Fuck those birds. Fuck them all. I got mine, Jack, fuck you.

This is the end, my beautiful friend

I write that last sentence with dark sarcasm. I’m livid. I’m angry. I feel sad. I feel a bunch of emotions that I can’t process right now and it comes out in rage. I want to smack us humans upside the head and say, “Don’t you see this is coming?”

Scientists and environmental activists have been warning us about the dangers of our excessive consumption, population growth, and climate change for years. No one listens and no one cares; it’s all bread and circus to them.

Jessica Wildfire wrote an amazing article about Sentinel Intelligence that resonated with me because I realized that I’m one of those sentinels.

I spend all my time putting out fires before they even begin. My entire life has been running what-if scenarios in my brain and preparing, circumventing, and taking away risks. I’m not a fearmonger or a gloom-and-doom nut bag, I’m just someone who cares about the world we live in.

I care about the world we leave behind for your children, and selfishly for my children.

I want my children and yours to live in a world where there are birds and strong ash trees. I want them to wander down dusty canyons and scale the tops of Appalachia. I want all of us to see dolphins frolic off the shores of Assateague. I want this world to be abundant with life for you, for me, and for all those that come after us.

I want peace and equality for all. I want adults and rational people running our governments. I want people to stop making quarterly decisions and ask, how will the generations after me be affected by what I do today.

I want all that and more but I can’t see it happening. I can’t see it at all. My sentinel intelligence is screaming about a trap that’s about to be sprung. A trap of our own making because we couldn’t give a shit about the environment and ecosystems.

We still have time to correct our mistakes but that time is running out fast.

Do you see it?

Do you?