Mmore than 400 people joined a virtual rally on Saturday afternoon to talk about the shrinking Great Salt Lake just before the 2022 legislative session.
The event was originally scheduled to take place in person at the Utah State Capitol but, due to the growing number of coronavirus cases, Save Our Great Salt Lake organizers moved the proceedings to Zoom.
Save Our Great Salt Lake co-founder and executive director Denise Cartwright said Great Salt Lake hit an all-time low last summer.
“It’s drying up and leaving behind a toxic lake bed that’s on its way to becoming one of the biggest sources of dust emissions in North America,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright says the collapse of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem is preventable, but so far Utah lawmakers have failed to take meaningful action.
“We are here to ask our elected officials to put water conservation first,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright said she would send the Zoom recording to lawmakers the following week. Plans to flood the mailboxes of elected officials were drawn up – and rally attendees were asked to fill out a Google form with their information and messages.
Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation Vice President Brad Parry spoke about the importance of maintaining balance with mother nature.
“We need to become more climate-adaptive,” Parry said. “We need to use less water in the population for things we don’t need.”
The Shoshone tribe has come to depend on what the Great Salt Lake has provided to the ecosystem for over a thousand years and, according to Parry, if the lake continues to dry up, it will significantly affect these communities.
Workers and the lower classes will also face challenges as the lake continues to shrink. USU sophomore Cristina Chirvasa spoke about the loss of recreational opportunities and tourism.
“The loss of these actually results in a loss of employment for those working in these industries,” Chirvasa said.
Other industries – such as the brine, mineral and ski industries – will lose jobs due to these losses, according to Chirvasa.
“Without the lake, our snow quality will decline and the ski and tourism industries will take a hit,” Chirvasa said, “as will Utah’s economy.”
According to Chirvasa, people of lower socio-economic status will also be disproportionately affected by the effects of air pollution, as water recedes and exposes more sediment to the air.
“The wind is going to carry it into the surrounding communities,” Chirvasa said, “potentially even up to Cache Valley.”
The lake contains toxic particles like arsenic and lead in its sediments and, according to Chirvasa, when these particles are suspended in the air, they pose risks to human health – such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“These conditions are going to be felt more seriously for people of lower socio-economic status because their access to quality health care is limited,” Chirvasa said.
Zach Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, mentioned that dozens of bills have been introduced in the Utah legislature over the past two decades to save water, only to be voted down by water lobbyists.
“They kill good legislation,” Frankel said. “Because they work for water suppliers who make money selling water.”
Frankel hopes some lawmakers will have the ethical courage to stand up to these water lobbyists — though he acknowledged there will be some lawmakers who won’t help the Great Salt Lake this legislative session.
“It’s our job to settle that difference to demand from our Utah legislators the ethical courage that we as Utahns want to save the Great Salt Lake,” Frankel said.
Many artists have contributed to this cause by creating artwork featured on the Save Our Great Salt Lake Instagram page.
Artist Nick Carpenter created a graphic design of an eared grebe, as it is one of the bird species with the most to lose from the lake’s retreat.
“More than half of their population migrates to the Great Salt Lake every summer to gorge on brine shrimp,” Carpenter said. “And once they’re here, they moult their flight feathers.”
If conditions at the lake decline after these birds arrive for the season, there could be huge mortality since they won’t be able to fly anywhere else, according to Carpenter.
Carpenter discovers that humans have a similar relationship with the lake.
“We’re also anchored and can’t easily move our cities and infrastructure if the lake were to dry up and become a bowl of dust,” Carpenter said.
Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams attended and spoke at the rally. Williams wrote about the lake when it was at an all-time high and continued his work when it reached the opposite.
“It’s more than an ecological or political crisis,” Williams said. “It’s spiritual. The earth will survive us. It is we who are baptized by fire.