Reuters published a piece earlier this week on how water in the Great Salt Lake is at its lowest level in at least 50 years.
The lake is fed by 4 rivers and several streams but the recent mild winters have meant a smaller snowpack. That means less water to begin with and then much of that was also diverted for other uses, leaving leaves miles and miles of lake bed currently exposed.
I read a few articles on this issue, all of which mentioned the effect this has on boaters - Reuters points out that 70 boats in the 320-slip marina have had to be pulled from the water - but there's been nothing on the repercussions for wildlife in the area.
So I called up John Luft - he's the manager for the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, part of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources - to see what he had to say.
Luft told me his program is really geared toward managing and monitoring the lake's brine shrimp population. They also keep an eye on the brine fly, as well as parts of the bird population - certain shore birds and water birds, although not game birds.
He said that the decreased water levels means a higher saline content but it's unclear exactly what effect that will have on the brine shrimp. They feed on algae and the salinity will definitely affect the algae growing in the Great Salt Lake. But there are other elements that also factor in to algal growth - like water temperature. So if the conditions are right and certain kinds of algae do well - the kind the brine shrimp like - the brine shrimp will be fine. But if it's not the kind of algae favored by brine shrimp, that could mean a drop off in population. It's still too soon to tell.
The brine fly, though, looks like it will have a rougher time. During the fly's larval stage, it attaches to the bioherms - which are calcium carbonate deposits on the bottom of the lake, kind of like coral. But as the water drops, those bioherms are exposed to air, making them uninhabitable for the brine fly larvae. That means fewer brine flies...
...and less food available for birds. Luft says that when the lake levels drop like this, he often sees birds bypass the lake altogether when they're migrating. That can be very taxing on them - they're used to getting such an abundant food source from the Great Salt Lake and when it's not there, the birds can die because they're unable to sustain themselves during the winter.
Not much can be done except to hope for enough snow next year (and the year after that) to increase the runoff and help replenish the water levels. Fingers crossed. But in the meantime, it might be nice if reports on this issue pointed out that it's not just the poor boaters that are having a rough time.