UTAH (ABC4) – In northern Utah, it feels like spring is finally here. As things warm up, researchers are worried air quality will decline across the Wasatch Front as the drought continues to take its toll on the Great Salt Lake.   

The Great Salt Lake is undeniably beautiful and in areas, spans as far as the eye can see. In fact, it is the largest lake in the western United States. However, as Utah’s drought continues, the lake’s beaches seem to be expanding before one’s eyes as well all while water levels continue to drop.  

“That’s starting to wake some of us up,” Dr. Daniel Bedford told ABC4 during an interview. Bedford is an expert of geography, environment and sustainability. He has been studying the lake and the effects of the drought on the lake for more than a decade. He is just one of many scientists in Utah dedicating their work to studying the lake.   

“The bottom line is the demand for water will go up as temperatures increase, and that’s a worry because, again, we don’t have a lot of water to go around as it is,” stated Bedford.  

Another scientist dedicating a decade to researching the lake is Dr. Jonathan Clark. His expertise is in zoology and biology. He told ABC4, “When we look at the challenges the lake is facing, we have immediate challenges that directly affect our lives, and that is air quality.” 

One may ask: “How is the lake connected to air quality?” Dr. Clark explained, “As the water level in the lake recedes that exposes more of the dry lakebed, and our canyon winds in the spring and summer stir up that dust and that contributes to the deterioration of our air quality.”  

Along the Wasatch Front, residents may already be used to inversion during the winter and heavy smoke from wildfires in the summer. Is adding a little dust to the mix so bad? Well, researchers say the Great Salt Lake is already one of the major contributors to air pollution in the area and believe it will only get worse as the lake shrinks.  

Dr. Bedford explained that we can look to the Aral Sea to get an idea of what Utahns may be facing. The Aral Sea is similar to the Great Salt Lake in that both are located in arid climates. However, the Aral Sea is different from the Great Salt Lake in that it is already close to being completely dried up.   

“There are terrible cases of human illness as a consequence of exposure to some of the things that were coming out of the Aral Sea,” Dr. Bedford added. “People were getting very, very high levels of cancer, terrible respiratory ailments, and those are the kinds of things that we might anticipate, potentially, from a lower lake level.”  

Currently, about 50 percent of the lakebed at the Great Salt Lake is exposed. However, interest in the lake’s health and future is growing across Utah. That, researchers told ABC4, is a good thing.

“I think there’s room for compromise,” Dr. Clark stated. “If we approach this and say, ‘We need to find a way to preserve about 30 percent of the water (that) normally goes into the lake.’ So, I’m optimistic we can do that.”

Dr. Clark explained that a thorough study out of Utah State University estimated that by reducing the amount of water Utahns divert from the water sources that feed into the lake, the water level would be more likely to stabilize within a health range.