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Great Salt Lake Collaborative
Great Salt Lake is at its lowest water level on record and continues to shrink. Utah Public Radio has teamed up with more than a dozen Utah organizations for the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a group that has come together to share multimedia stories and rigorous reports about the lake and ways to protect this critical body of water before it's too late.

As Great Salt Lake reaches a new historic low, advocates call for water protections

Purple clouds hang over a dry sandy plain with dark mountains in the background
Venus Pierson

Great Salt Lake has reached a new historic low this week, despite a cool, wet spring. The Utah legislature has proposed measures to protect the lake, but advocates for the lake worry this isn’t enough.

Zachary Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said getting water back into Great Salt Lake is critical.

“Every Utahn, and frankly, every American should be paying attention to this because it means the American West's largest remaining wetland ecosystem is suffering a new crisis that will affect all of us,” Frankel said.

Great Salt Lake dropped to its previous historic low last October, with a surface elevation of 4,190.2 feet above sea level. While just a short drop from the previous low, this July’s low of 4,190.1 feet foreshadows more dramatic declines as we move into the fall.

This past March, Utah set aside 40 million dollars to Great Salt Lake protections and passed a bill that allows water rights holders, like farmers, to lease them to conservation groups. This is a start, Frankel said, but he’s worried the high-profile measures Utah has already taken to protect the lake have given us a false sense of security.

“What we've done in the Utah State House for the last year, is take baby steps, but present them as giant leaps forward. ... We have a lot of pageantry around the Great Salt Lake but not much of substance, to dedicate the 2 million acre feet of water the Great Salt Lake needs every year,” Frankel said.

Development projects imperil the lake, and Frankel said to truly protect the lake, we need to rethink our current plans.

“The proponents of the largest new water diversion in the American West are here in Utah, and that's [the] proposed Bear River Development. And if they are allowed to build this three or $4 billion water diversion of the Bear River, it's going to devastate the Great Salt Lake,“ Frankel said.

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

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.