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More exposed Great Salt Lake bed means increased dust storms, officials warn

FARMINGTON BAY, Utah — More dust storms could blow over the Wasatch Front due to the increasingly exposed lake bed, state leaders are warning.

“It’s common sense that when you expose an additional 300 to 400 square miles of lake bed and the wind picks up, you’re going to have more dust,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, in an interview with FOX 13 News. following his recent appearance at the Friends of the Great Salt Lake summit on the health and future of the huge lake.

Utah’s Air Quality Division told FOX 13 News it is increasingly concerned about dust storms.

“A more exposed lake bed increases the potential for windblown dust. Dust can impact any town along the Wasatch Front depending on wind direction and strength,” said said division manager Bryce Bird in a statement. “We typically see dust associated with storm fronts in the spring and fall and in the summer strong winds from microburst thunderstorms. A recent cold front in April filled the Salt Lake Valley with dust from the Farmington Bay now dry.”

The Great Salt Lake is expected to reach a new historic low this year. What lies in the exposed lake bed worries scientists, conservationists and political leaders. Scientists have documented traces of arsenic and other chemicals that would typically be covered in water.

“Some of the materials you’re lifting up in these dust storms? They’re not healthy so we have to watch that very closely. There’s a very simple solution: put water back on the lake bed,” said the President Wilson.

The Davis County Health Department said research is currently being conducted on dust from the exposed lake bed.

“For those with more breathing issues, always pay attention to the Air Quality Index. On high particulates or on poor air quality days, stay indoors,” Jay said. Clark, director of environmental health for the department.

Getting more water into the lake would certainly reduce dust storms (and a dry Great Salt Lake presents an economic and environmental disaster for the state). At present, policy makers are looking at many different ways to ensure water continues to enter the lake. The legislature has recently passed bills to facilitate the environmental and other groups to secure lake water. Under Utah law, water rights dating back to the 1800s exist in a sort of “use it or lose it” system.

“If you are not using your water for beneficial purposes, it is considered wasted and therefore should be available for other people in the system to put to beneficial use,” said Emily Lewis, a human rights lawyer. water for the law firm Clyde Snow.

Speaking at the Friends of the Great Salt Lake summit earlier this month, Lewis said it was a complicated issue.

“We need to think creatively about our existing laws and systems to incentivize using water a little smarter,” she said.

Where water was once seen as “wasted” and having “no beneficial use” once it reaches the terminal basin that is the Great Salt Lake, this view is changing. The Great Salt Lake helps generate snowpack, is a haven for millions of birds, and generates billions in economic impacts for the state, said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake.

“We’ve known from the beginning that it’s in many ways, economically, hemispherically, ecologically…wonderful,” she said.

President Wilson said it’s something that will likely be discussed before next year’s legislative session.

“I think that’s part of the conversation. You’re already seeing some of that happening with organizations acquiring, donating some of the water rights for the Great Salt Lake,” he said.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake and what that can be done to make a difference before it’s too late. Read all our stories on

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion