NASA Satellite Imagery Shows Utah's Great Salt Lake Is Drying Up at Alarming Rate
Five years of drought and over-use of water from feeder rivers has seen Utah's Great Salt Lake shrink by almost 40 percent. The changes were dramatically revealed in before-and-after photos taken by the Landsat 8 satellite, recently released by NASA.
Before and after images taken in 2011 and 2016 reveal dramatic shrinkage of Farmington Basin in the Great Salt Lake. Joshua Stevens/Landsat/US Geological Survey
The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt-water lake in the Western Hemisphere. Three major rivers feed into the lake, but it has no outlet. Water leaves only through evaporation, creating the high salinity levels that give the lake its name. It is the eighth-largest such terminal lake in the world.
On average, the Great Salt Lake covers an area of about 1,700 square miles. In October, it had shrunk to 1,050 square miles. In the same month, the Great Salt Lake reached it lowest recorded level in history at 4,191.2 feet.
For more than 150 years, more water has been drawn out of the Salt Lake watershed than flows into it. The amount of water in the lake has declined by 48 percent and the lake level has fallen 11 feet since 1847.
Now, Utah is planning to spend
$1.5 billion to build seven dams along the Bear River, diverting as much as 220,000 acre-feet annually. This could drop water levels in the Great Salt Lake another four feet. The Utah Rivers Council calls it "disastrous."
Lobbyist’s Secret Plan for Bear River Water Grab and Lake Powell Pipeline Exposed https://t.co/3FXnIclgng— Utah Rivers Council (@Utah Rivers Council)1477083568.0
River flow into the basin has dropped 39 percent since the middle of the 19th century, largely due to population growth and agriculture. Irrigation consumes 63 percent of overall water use from the Bear, Jordan and Weber rivers that feed into the Great Salt Lake.
"Farmington Bay has been nearly desiccated as the result of the combined effects of drought and water withdrawals from the rivers feeding the lake," said Wayne Wurtsbaugh, who studies watershed sciences at Utah State University.
Water conservation programs promoted by the state have helped reduce water use per-person by 18 percent, but remain the second-highest in the U.S. Plus, a growing population offsets many of those gains.
NASA said that higher-than-normal temperatures and the five-year drought plaguing the American West have also taken a toll. The lake is known to respond rapidly to variations in rainfall.
NASA: Megadrought Lasting Decades Is 99% Certain in American Southwest https://t.co/MHyjT0yCbD @GravityDriven1 @climatechange— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1475798111.0
"A wildcard for the fate of the lake is what global
climate change may do to the basin," said Wurtsbaugh.
Wetlands along the northern and eastern shores of the lake provide habitat for more than 250 species of migratory birds and account for about 75 percent of the wetlands in Utah. These birds, numbering in the millions, feed on the lake's brine shrimp and brine flies.
As the lake shrinks, marinas have had to move. More and larger dust storms besiege the area. The lake's $1.3 billion contribution to Utah's economy is threatened.
"The solution to the water issue is greater conservation, particularly for agricultural irrigation," said Wurtsbaugh.
But the public has to do its part as well.
"If you walk across the Salt Lake Valley on a summer day, you will see gutters full of water," said Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. "You will see people watering concrete because water is so cheap. And there are no repercussions for that. There are no water cops, there's no water education, nothing like that."
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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