Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beached Boats, Pink Water as Drought Saps Great Salt Lake

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beached Boats, Pink Water as Drought Saps Great Salt Lake

Article excerpt

SALT LAKE CITY * On the southern shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake, more than 100 boats are sitting high and dry in a parking lot, unable to sail the shallow, drought-stricken sea.

North of the nearly empty marina, salt-loving bacteria thriving in the low water has turned the liquid pink.

The massive lake, key to the state's economy and identity, is skirting record low levels after years of below-average precipitation and record heat. A few dozen lawmakers are taking a road trip Thursday and Friday to see the problems firsthand and learn what they can do to help besides praying for more rain and snow this winter.

The lake, about 75 miles long and 30 miles wide, is the largest in the U.S. outside the Great Lakes. Water levels have always fluctuated, but they have been dropping steadily since 2011.

"If this continues ... the ecosystem as a whole is under a pretty significant threat," said Jason Curry, a spokesman for Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The state estimates that the Great Salt Lake's ecosystem has a $1.32 billion economic effect. It is a home or major resting place for more than 250 species of birds. Salt and other minerals are mined from the lake and used for fertilizer, melting snow on roadways and other products. Its water is credited with helping produce dry, powdery snow that attracts skiers worldwide to the nearby mountains.

It's generally three to five times saltier than the ocean, allowing swimmers to float easily. The lake is an unforgiving environment for most creatures but a prime habitat for brine flies and brine shrimp tiny, clear crustaceans once sold in the back of comic books as "sea monkeys," whose eggs are now harvested and sold worldwide as food for other shrimp, crab and fish.

As lake levels drop and the water becomes saltier, even those creatures are threatened. …

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