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NASA Images Show Great Salt Lake Is Shrinking (Photos)

| by David Bonner

The Great Salt Lake in Utah is shrinking.

That’s the conclusion of a scientific report released by Utah State University on Nov. 2, which is visually supported by new images from NASA, reports NASA’s Earth Observatory.

The largest body of water in the United States after the Great Lakes, the Great Salt Lake is a terminal basin, meaning that the water pouring into it from rivers and streams has no outlet other than evaporation.

Humans are now diverting about 40 percent of the river water that flows into the lake for farming, industry, and human consumption. Drought has also been a factor. According to the report, the water level of the lake is 11 feet lower than it otherwise would be. The shrinkage of the lake threatens the industries that harvest the shrimp and extract minerals from the lake, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

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NASA images from 2011 and 2016 compare the changes in the Farmington Bay basin of Great Salt Lake.

“Farmington Bay has been nearly desiccated as the result of the combined effects of drought and water withdrawals from the rivers feeding the lake,” said Wayne Wurtsbaugh, one of the report’s authors. “Farmington Bay is an immensely important feeding area for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl. Even at the low level we have now, it is still important, but the greatly reduced size has diminished its value.”

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The report, prepared alongside the state Division of Water Resources, Salt Lake Community College and the Division of Wildlife Resources, offers the following advice: "As Utah moves forward, we need to be aware of the impacts of lowered lake levels and make decisions that serve the interests of all Utahns. In particular, proposals to further develop the water supply of the Great Salt Lake should carefully consider potential impacts to the health of the lake and examine the trade-offs."

Co-author Craig Miller, a senior engineer with the Division of Water Resources, added his thoughts:

The Great Salt Lake is complicated, but we hope this paper starts a meaningful conversation about how important the lake is to our ecosystem, economy and quality of life. Everybody wants water in Utah, so the challenge is to find balance between demands and needs so we can have the least amount of negative impacts to the environment of the lake and our economy. There's going to be some give and take.

Sources: NASA, The Salt Lake Tribune / Photo credit: Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune, NASA

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