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Drought in western United States brings Great Salt Lake to lowest level on record

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Los Angeles (AFP) – Water in Utah’s Great Salt Lake has fallen to its lowest level on record, authorities said this week, following the ongoing drought affecting the western United States which, according to the scientists, has been exacerbated by climate change.

The average depth of the massive saltwater lake, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, fluctuates naturally with the seasons and local rainfall.

But the economically and ecologically important basin has not been lower since records began in 1847, when the Mormons first arrived to establish Salt Lake City.

The previous record was set in October 2021, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said in a news release on Tuesday.

“That’s not the type of record we like to break,” Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said in the joint statement.

“Urgent action is needed to help protect and preserve this critical resource. It is clear the lake is in trouble,” he added.

Based on trends from previous years, “lake levels will likely continue to decline until fall or early winter, when the amount of water entering the lake equals or exceeds evaporative losses” , the USGS said.

According to estimates released by the Utah State Government, the Great Salt Lake contributes up to $1.3 billion annually to the local economy, through a wide range of industries, including mining, fish farming and tourism.

Depletion of the lake could also threaten the large number of migratory birds that stop there each year, and could have serious repercussions on the health of the local population.

Scientists recently warned that dangerous arsenic-rich sediments lie at the bottom of the lake and could be carried by the wind if exposed to the air.

Much of the western United States is in the grip of a major drought, which has caused reduced water flow in rivers and a dramatic drop in the levels of major reservoirs, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Climatologists note that there is a historical precedent for droughts lasting more than 20 years in the region, but their severity has increased due to rising global temperatures due to human activity.