The Great Vanishing Act of Utah's Great Salt Lake
Scientists estimate the lake has lost half its volume in the past 150 years
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2016 7:34 AM CST
Updated Mar 12, 2016 10:29 AM CST
A biologist with Utah's Westminster College is reflected among the small pools of salt water that surround the domelike structures she's studying known as microbialites.   (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

(Newser) – Utah's most defining feature, the Great Salt Lake, may not be long for this world. Scientists report in a Utah State University white paper that 150 years of human diversions from the rivers running into the lake have reduced water levels by 11 feet, "exposing much of the lake bed" and amounting to a roughly 50% loss of volume in that time, reports Utah Public Radio. In what the Houston Chronicle calls a "damning" paper, the researchers go on to point their fingers at state Senate Bill 80, which was heard on the same day the paper was published, calling for additional water diversions to help develop Bear River as the state's population continues to rise.

"We hope this starts a conversation," a spokesperson for the Utah Division of Water Resources tells Utah Public Radio. "We hope that skier or that person who cares about the economy or the wildlife on the lake will not only look into what's happening with the lake, but look into how they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem." His team estimates that the Bear River project alone would result in another 8.5-inch drop in elevation and the exposure of another 30 square miles of lake bed. Researchers note that California's Owens River, destroyed by diversions in the 1920s, remains one of the country's largest sources of particulate matter, causing asthma and other health problems across the region; likewise with shrinking salt lakes in Iran and Uzbekistan. (Speaking of air pollution, scientists see a link with suicides.)