UTAH (ABC4) – Young organizers from Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES) carried out a demonstration at the Great Salt Lake Saturday, holding a “funeral” for the lake which is rapidly approaching ecological collapse.

Over 100 community members reportedly attended the event, where young people flanked by handmade tombstones “dropped dead” one by one to demonstrate the severity of the crisis and call for action.

The protestors are demanding that Utah leaders take action to protect the Great Salt Lake, converging on the dry lake bed behind the Great Saltair.

Local writer Milo Emilia read poetry from their recent book entitled “lake words“, stating, “Think of a place you know that is loved, cared for. Think of how that place feels and how you feel there. Now think of a place that has been disregarded, put aside, and ignored. You can feel it. Has our Great Salt Lake been disregarded? What love does it need to heal?”

Demonstrators reportedly marched in silence onto the lakebed, arriving at a “graveyard” made up of nearly 20 tombstones, each warning of “harm that will befall communities” in the Salt Lake Valley if the lake dries up.

Messages on the tombstones included, “2005-2022: I died from arsenic poisoning,” “Utah values alfalfa over my life,” and “My legislators let me die.”

Speakers described a future without the Great Salt Lake, a future in which arsenic and other heavy metals are carried on the wind into peoples’ lungs.

Multiple community members spoke at the event, including Winona Gray, an environmental sociology PhD student and organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Gray discussed how “capitalism is the root of violence” against both people and the land. Another speaker, Flor Isabel, a parent of four and the Community Leadership Coordinator at United Way of Salt Lake, shared a personal experience about raising a child with asthma “due to poor air quality.” Alan Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Zoology major and UYES organizer, spoke as well, calling on attendees to “wield their collective power and demand revolutionary change.”

A press release from UYES states that the Great Salt Lake is rapidly disappearing due to “compounding issues, including climate change, metropolitan expansion, and water diversions for agriculture and industry.”

As the water recedes, arsenic and other heavy metals deposited in the lakebed by nearby mining operations “will be carried by the wind and inhaled by residents,” according to the organization. Representatives say that the research shows a possible ecosystem collapse which could begin as soon as this year, “killing off brine shrimp and migratory birds that rely on the lake for food and habitat,” as well as hurting multiple industries the lake supports.

“It’s incredibly dangerous for biodiversity, for the economy, and also for peoples’ health,” says UYES organizer Muskan Walia.

“Legislators are talking about it, but the conversation has predominantly been about how we can geoengineer our way out of this crisis,” says UYES organizer Maria Archibald. “What we are gathering at the lakebed to say is that we don’t need to be piping water hundreds of miles to the lake, we need to be working within the bounds of nature to let the water that we have actually make it to the lake instead of diverting it for alfalfa and industry.”

Walia ultimately says that investing the state’s resources into “vague research efforts and geoengineering projects” are not solutions. She claims that researchers have been studying this issue for several years and that this knowledge must be turned into action that “reduces harm, sustains, and centers justice for all people in Utah.”

Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES) is a youth-led organization that “empowers young people in Utah to mobilize around climate and environmental issues through legislation, education and action.” Their mission is to “connect students to environmental advocacy by cultivating reciprocal relationships between Utah’s youth, environmental organizations, and community leaders.