Salt Lake City, UT
Over 300 medical professionals based in Utah and throughout the country have signed a letter warning Utah policymakers that unless enough water reaches the Great Salt Lake to reverse its recent decline, a serious public health crisis will plague the state’s future. The sign-on letter was delivered ahead of Utah’s 2024 legislative session and urges the state to implement the necessary policies to avert this looming disaster. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, which is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state’s failure to ensure enough water reaches the lake, coordinated the sign-on letter and delivered it to key policymakers today.
The letter reads, “As medical professionals, it is our obligation to speak out on behalf of public health protection and to alert local, state, and national policymakers of the predictable consequences of allowing the lake to disappear, or even to remain in its current diminished state. As we take an oath to do no harm, so should our lawmakers. We urge the State of Utah to implement whatever policies are necessary to avert this looming disaster.”
“We have alarming examples in the U.S. and around the world of what happens to the public health of populations exposed to the dust from dried up lake beds,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The heavily populated areas of Utah are directly downwind of Great Salt Lake, and are already exposed to multiple air pollution sources including lake bed dust. We simply cannot allow the lake to continue at its diminished state, or worse, completely disappear.”
Environmental scientists have concluded that the lake is on a path to ecological collapse within the next decade and that the primary cause is the unsustainable amount of water that is diverted away from the lake every year.
The decline of the lake threatens the health of over 2 million people who live downwind. As the lake’s water is depleted, lakebed sediments containing fine particulates and toxic pollutants are exposed, which the wind will carry into nearby communities and throughout the intermountain region. The lakebed is laced with toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead, and hazardous industrial and agricultural chemicals that will be inhaled by millions of people living in the vicinity, threatening public health. According to a recent NASA study, residents on the west side of Salt Lake City and in Tooele County will be disproportionately harmed by the exposed lakebed and increased toxic pollutants.
“Medical professionals from Utah and across the country are sounding the alarm on the urgent threat that the Great Salt Lake’s decline poses to communities downwind,” said Stu Gillespie, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “It is time for Utah’s policymakers to heed this call and take meaningful action to address the upstream water diversions that put the lake at risk.”
In September 2023, conservation and community groups sued the state of Utah for its failure to ensure that enough water reaches the Great Salt Lake. The lawsuit says that state officials have breached their trust obligations to Utahns by failing to take appropriate and necessary action to address the crisis and protect the lake. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order directing Utah’s leaders to implement meaningful solutions that will provide enough water to the Great Salt Lake for the people and wildlife that depend on it.
Earthjustice is representing Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Utah Rivers Council in the suit.