The Great Salt Lake in Utah has been reduced to “a puddle” by climate change. It is nearly half its size now, according to shocking data. 

According to the Salt Lake Tribune’s report, the rising demand for water and drought as well as the effects of climate change have had a devastating effect on the lake. This has caused roughly half the surface to disappear.

The lake is now only about 1,700 miles in area, a mere fraction of what it was once believed to be. Its shorelines are dotted with vast expanses of lakebed.

Furthermore, lake water levels have sunk to historic lows during the Beehive State’s record-breaking heatwave and drought.

The lake in 1986: A recent report found that climate change coupled with drought and a growing demand for water has hampered Utah's Great Salt Lake over the years, causing roughly half its surface area to  vanish
The lake today: A recent report found that climate change coupled with drought and a growing demand for water has hampered Utah's Great Salt Lake over the years, causing roughly half its surface area to vanish

According to a recent study, Utah’s Great Salt Lake has been affected by climate change and drought over the past few years. This is resulting in half its land area being lost.

Tribune’s Managing Editor Grant Burningham was part of the team that led the study, along with AccuWeather weather forecasting network AccuWeather. He spoke to the outlet on Monday and described the desperate state of the lake as a ‘death spiral’.

AccuWeather’s Burningham stated that he knew that the lake was smaller than it once was.

“We have an opportunity to raise awareness locally and nationally, while hopefully there are still some things we can make to improve the course of Lake Ontario – which right now is frankly in a death spiral.”  

According to Burningham’s report, the Great Salt Lake – the largest saltwater lake in the entire Western Hemisphere – has shrunk so drastically, that maps depicting the body of water need to be edited to accurately show the lake’s current, sad state.

Currently, the lake, once thought to stretch for approximately 1,700 square miles, only encompasses a fraction of that number, and is rimmed by vast reaches of exposed lake bed along its shorelines

Although once estimated to cover approximately 1,700 sq. miles, it now covers a small fraction. The shorelines are dotted with vast expanses of lakebed.

Boat docks sit on dry, cracked earth at Antelope Island Marina in the enormous saltwater lake in August, after Utah was hit with a historic drought. Due to the rapidly reducing water levels, Antelope Island - situated in the middle of briny lake - is no longer an island

Antelope Island Marina’s boat docks are set on cracked, dry earth after a drought in Utah. Antelope Island, which is located in the middle of a briny lake, has been made an island due to rapidly decreasing water levels.

AccuWeather’s Burningham stated that maps must reflect the real world, particularly in light of climate change. “The time is short to make changes, and things are changing quickly, so it’s important for maps to be accurate,” Burningham said of the shocking findings of his study.

The editor stated that it was crucial for people to update their maps. 

There are increasing concerns about the potential impacts of a smaller and saltier lake on the ecosystem.

It is still unknown what the impact of the shrinking lake on Utah’s growing economy will be. Utah has had the fastest economic growth in any 50 state over the past five year according to Forbes’ 2021 study. 

In July, the lake level sank below its lowest level on record due to a drought, and has since kept dipping to dangerous new levels

Due to drought in July, the lake level fell below its record low of 7 feet. Since then, it has continued to fall to new dangerous levels.

Great Salt Lake State Park Manager & Harbor Master Dave Shearer told AccuWeather Monday that the fate of the lake holds large implications for his home state’s future.

Shearer said of the potential long-term effects that may be brought on by the lake’s languishing water levels: ‘This body of water is so big, it creates lake effect snowstorms, so it is very crucial to life along the Wasatch Front’ – a largely metropolitan region in the north-central part of the state that boasts a slew of contiguous cities and towns, such as Salt Lake and Park cities.  

Shearer, a long-time resident of Utah revealed that the Utah economy is worth $1.3 billion every year.   

Maps depicting the Great Salt Lake offer a dated view of the once-enormous body of water, which has withered by nearly half its original size in recent years

Today, the lake sits at 4,190.6 feet above sea level - nearly 10 feet lower than how it is depicted in maps of the US

Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake, has been so reduced that the maps (left) showing the current state of the lake need to be altered to show its sad condition.

With more of the lake's shoreline now exposed, the livelihoods of brine shrimp that live in the remnants of the once-great lake are now in danger - as well as those of birds that rely on the sea critters for food

More of the shoreline of Lake Ontario is now exposed. This puts at risk both the livelihoods for brine shrimp and birds who rely on these sea creatures to eat, as well.

It was at 4191.3 feet above the sea level during drought conditions in July. The phenomenon is largely due to climate change.

The Tribune report shows that the price has fallen even more since then.

The lake’s historic average, according to lake coordinator Laura Vernon, who works for the Utah Department of Natural Resources, is 4,200 feet above sea level.

The Tribune was told by a state employee that “This is the historical average”, before adding in a threatening tone, “But we are rewriting the history.”

In an aerial photo taken August 2, an area of the Great Salt Lake that was previously underwater can now be seen from the air - completely dry

An aerial photo from August 2, shows an area that used to be underwater, but can now clearly be seen through the sky – the Great Salt Lake is dry.

The lake currently sits 4,190.6ft above the sea level. That’s almost 10 feet less than the average, according to the Tribune report.

It also holds approximately 7.7 million acres of water, which is about half the historical average. 

According to the report, 937 acres of lake’s surface are covered by its briny waters, while 763 miles remain of the salty sea bone-dry.     

An aerial view of the northern section of the Great Salt Lake on August 2. In July, the lake saw its water level sink to the lowest seen on record since measurements began in 1875. It has since dropped even further

Aerial view of the Great Salt Lake’s northern portion on August 2. It was July when the lake experienced its lowest water level since records began in 1875. The lake’s water level has dropped further since then.

An August aerial view of the lake at its lowest shows its pinkish-red evaporation ponds - colors caused by the lake's high salinity levels, which increase as water levels lessen

A August aerial shot of the lake from the lowest point shows the pinkish-red coloration of its evaporation pools. These colors are caused by high levels in salinity, which increases as the water level drops.

Utah, however, is experiencing severe drought that scientists have linked with climate change.

The West has long had water issues as a political issue. Therefore, in September the US Representative from Utah’s first congressional District, Blake Moore and State Senator Mitt Mitt Romney introduced legislation which would have their state spending $25 million on water monitoring to feed the Great Salt Lake.

Moore stated in a press release that ‘Its waters levels are at the lowest recorded history, leading to habitat loss, decreased water flow, and other quality problems’. 

“Unfortunately, the Great Basin States’ saline lakes are also facing these challenges.”

And while climate change is a major driver behind the rate at which the Great Salt Lake is shrinking, human diversion of various tributaries that empty into the lake has also contributed to its diminishment.       

Every year, millions of gallons water is diverted from rivers to the Great Salt Lake, where it can be used for agricultural, industrial, or urban purposes.         

An aerial shot from Augusts shows exposed shoreline along a railroad causeway that bisects the Utah lake

Un aerial view taken by Augusts from the Utah Lake shows the exposed shoreline that is along the railroad line.

According to Tribune, this has led to more water being exposed on the shoreline of the lake, which is potentially threatening the livelihood of the brine shrimp that depend upon the lakes for their food.

The lake isn’t drinkable because of its saltiness. However, the ecosystem surrounding it and its overall existence are largely beneficial to neighboring humans.

Shearer mentions lake-effect snowstorms as one example. They help to produce water in large parts of the area. 

The exposed dry lake, meanwhile, poses a threat to the air quality in neighboring Salt Lake City, situated less than 20 miles away, and is adding more dust into the snowpack, causing it to melt earlier in the year, disrupting the supply of water in the surrounding ecosystem, the report further reveals.

Although the exact consequences of these changes remain unknown, experts as well as locals insist that the lake’s ecology may be in imminent danger. This sentiment is shared by many. This has been a warning from scientists for many years.

The lake's sinking water levels hit historic lows over the summer, during a record-breaking drought and heatwave in the Beehive State - and have since only gotten worse

Sinking lake water levels reached historic lows during the Beehive State’s record-breaking heatwave and drought. Since then, they have only gotten worse

“As climate change is occurring, over the past many decades, we know that it will also fundamentally alter how much water we receive and where we obtain it. This includes the intensity and patterns of storms, rain patterns, drought severity, flood danger, and the water demand from crops.

The effects of climate changes on Salt Lake City is no longer hypothetical, as the Utah Governor. Spencer Cox described the rising water levels of Salt Lake City as a “all-hands-on deck” issue.

Spencer Cox (the governor of the Bee Hive State) has also intervened, in order to discuss the most pressing issues during an a Monthly news conference held Thursday. Utah’s politico stressed the importance the lake has and gave a preview of upcoming legislation that will help to preserve its water.

The politician stated that the Great Salt Lake was a national treasure from a variety of perspectives, including a economic and health standpoint. 

It’s more than the Great Salt Lake. It is the Colorado River Basin. [water]The storage capacity is determined by the state. 

“This issue is all-hands on deck.”