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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.

This winter's record snowfall is making its way to Great Salt Lake

Ecoflights is an Aspen, Colorado based nonprofit that provides a big picture perspective on changing landscapes across the West. They take scientists, activists, legislators, community members and press up in small planes to give aerial perspectives on important landscapes and ongoing conservation areas.

This year the group took Utah politicians, members of the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, and Great Salt Lake experts, among others, out to view Great Salt Lakefrom several thousand feet up in the sky.

Jaime Butler, a Great Salt Lake scientist who has written several articles and books about the lake, could see the difference brought by this year’s runoff.

“Last year, and even the year before, we really weren't seeing any water coming out of the Bear River and entering into Great Salt Lake. It was a big, dry, open muddy plane,” said Butler.

Due to this year’s high precipitation, water can now be seen flowing from the lake’s largest tributary, the Bear River, and flooding the surrounding area. It could mean good news for Utah’s state crustacean.

The south arm’s salinity provides ideal conditions for a niche group of organisms, particularly brine shrimpwhich thrive in waters of 12-16% salinity. The last several years of extreme drought saw further concentration of saltin the waters.

“The highest it got was 19%. So,three percentage points higher than is optimal. And 3% is big — on average, the seawater that you taste when you go to the beach, that's 3.5% salinity,” said Butler.

The hope with this year’s runoff is that the south arm of the lake will decrease in salinity to around 14%.

While this year’s increase in runoff is incredibly important to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and surrounding community, concerns about the future of the lake remain, as two decades of drought saw major disruption to the ecosystem. One season of good precipitation is not likely to repair all the damage.

Trevor Nielson is the Bear River Canal general manager.

“If you have a steady or decreasing supply, you can't be increasing your demand. I mean, the lake has to have some water in it. And so, we have to be smarter about it, we have to stretch it, what we’ve got further,” Nielsen said.

Read about last year’s ecoflight and see photos of this area last here.

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.

Erin Lewis is a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a PhD Candidate in the biology department at Utah State University. She is passionate about fostering curiosity and communicating science to the public. At USU she studies how anthropogenic disturbances are impacting wildlife, particularly the effects of tourism-induced dietary shifts in endangered Bahamian Rock Iguana populations. In her free time she enjoys reading, painting and getting outside with her dog, Hazel.