SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Great Salt Lake is shrinking at such a rapid pace that scientists are raising alarm.

Because without the Great Salt Lake, dangerous particles will escape into the air, possibly making Salt Lake sporadically poisonous, especially if a wind storm occurs. 

“Without mitigation starting now, the lake is destined to go dry. It will likely reach unrecoverable levels in the next 30 years or so,” said Simon S.-Y. Wang, a professor at Utah State University who studies the Great Salt Lake. “Then, the entire ecosystem and the lake’s economical values will be jeopardized.” 

The drying of the Great Salt Lake has some experts concerned it will have similar impacts to what happened with the Aral Sea, an endorheic lake between the north of Kazakhstan and the south of Uzbekistan. 

The Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest lake in the world, and as it dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on it collapsed. The salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides, and with the lake bed exposed, those toxic chemicals blew across the desert and settled onto fields, degrading the soil. 

For the Great Salt Lake, there’s still a chance to avoid these complications, but only if measures are taken quickly. 

“Global warming increases evaporation, causing the land [farms] to lose more water into the air. Because Utah is dry, the air can hold a lot more water as it gets warmer, hence taking more water from rivers and soils. And global warming also makes the western tropical Pacific warmer, hence energizing the atmosphere that shifts the jet stream causing the western U.S. to experience more hot-and-dry weather,” Wang said. 

Wang also mentioned how droughts in the western US are naturally-occurring, but not to this extent, and the only way we’ll make real change is by using less water for agriculture. 

“Agriculture uses the most water. Period. But agriculture feeds people and brings cash to the state,” Wang said, adding how tough this makes the issue, i.e. economy vs. ecosystem. “Most irrigated alfalfa farms use groundwater. This effect of groundwater withdrawal is invisible because it takes a long time for mountain snowpack to infiltrate and form groundwater and then recharge the lake. It’s a lesser-known process that typically takes 3 years to show its effect on the Great Salt Lake. It means that the drought we are seeing now will further depress the lake level three years later.” 

The only way to truly make a difference, Wang said, is to talk to our government leaders. Get them to make new regulations because if there aren’t changes soon, Salt Lake’s namesake will be a thing of the past. 

“Individuals really can’t do much in saving the lake (dangerous for me to say so…) My rationale is that the drying climate is a global issue, and the U.S. needs to lead the globe–as it strives to do–in solving the underlying problem of climate warming,” Wang said.