Unlike most other water bodies of the United States, the Great Salt Lake is literally brimming with salt. So much so, it is seven times saltier than the oceans.Unfortunately, it has shrunk in size by more than two-thirds – from 3,300 square miles to 1,000 square miles in just 35 years! As a result active measures are needed immediately to save this environmentally critical and treasured resource and to prevent catastrophic poisonous dust clouds of arsenic and other toxins that would result from the lake drying further.
Here’s a situation where expensive desalination plants are unnecessary, so seawater could be transported by truck and train, or possibly piped from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake to help restore it to its traditional level. While its doubtful that the amount of water needed to restock the Great Salt Lake would do much to offset rising sea levels to any great extent, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
There are two primary precautions, though, that come to mind with such a plan:
- The need for retrofitting tankers or pipelines to withstand the corrosive properties of salt.
- Whether seawater from the Pacific should be used given the trace amounts of radiation in the water leftover from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. If there is any chance that these trace amounts of radiation could destroy the fragile ecosystem of the lake (particularly for brine shrimp) or cause potential harm to residents, migratory bird species, and/or other wildlife then the water would need to come from elsewhere, like the Gulf of Mexico.
Furthermore, serious and comprehensive steps should be undertaken to reduce water demand through conservation in metropolitan Salt Lake City and surrounding communities. However, one cannot dismiss the fact that there are very serious health concerns that will likely result from further drying of the lakebed (see quote below). Reducing water demand will help, but it may not reverse the drying process quickly enough to prevent a potential environmental and public health catastrophe.
While the Salt Lake City Tribune has largely dismissed the idea of a pipeline “as loony” (though it is still under consideration by the state of Utah), transporting salt water via truck and/or rail tanker would have less upfront costs and could easily utilize existing infrastructure. Given the potential environmental, health, social, and political consequences of doing nothing or not doing enough, it seems to this retired planner that the truck and train tanker option in conjunction with strong water conservation measures should be employed at least as a stopgap measure until long-term solutions can be established. Peace.