As part of the Waterworks events, a panel discussion took place on Wednesday at the Wildcat Theater on the various economic values of the Great Salt Lake.
The panelists were Lynn de Freitas, Erica Brown Gaddis, Wally Gwynn and Don S. Paul. Each is a part of raising awareness on what the Great Salt Lake has to offer the economy and the environment.
Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said the question of the lake’s worth has always been a tremendous challenge.
One of the key contributors from the lake to the economy is the mineral extraction industries. There are salt production companies, magnesium and potassium sulfate. Freitas said the minerals are the lake’s cash cow.
“Other potential products that could be harvested are lithium and other organic compounds,” said Gwynn, salines geologist and mineralogist.
The brine shrimp industry is a second contributor to the state’s economy and the global market of agriculture. The brine shrimp eggs are harvested from the lake as a multimillion-dollar economic generator.
Recreation is the third key contributor to the economy, with activities including a rowing team, boating, swimming, kayaking and bird watching.
“That key contributor to the economy and that wealth of activity that it represents is another key economic proponent that was studied,” Freitas said.
The Great Salt Lake is also home to different species of migratory birds, including the California gull, Utah’s state bird.
“It’s nationally, regionally and globally significant because of its habitat water to millions of migratory birds,” Freitas said.
Paul, an avian biologist, explained that hundreds of thousands of birds of different species migrate to the lake, some being the largest breeding population globally. The location is important to birds traveling from the arctic because of the size, about 3,000 square miles, and the latitude of about 41 degrees.
“You have an abundant food source and places for birds to nest that make this place unique,” Paul said.
Alice Mulder, assistant geography professor, said the idea of the panelist discussion was to increase awareness of the lake. The first impression Mulder said people may get is that it’s “stinky and buggy.”
The lake, being shallow, changes levels through the years. The lowest level recorded, according to Freitas, was 4,191 feet above sea level, through the droughts Utah has had over the decades.
The lake also has an impact on the weather and climate. If there were no lake, the type of snowfall would change, and Utah would be a much drier place to live, possibly taking a more economical downturn. Paul said the lake influences weather and about 10 percent of the snowfall accumulated over the winter.
Shawna Wolfgram, a student at WSU, said she knew that if the lake was a lot lower, the weather would be affected, and there wouldn’t be as much produce of brine shrimp.
“As far as the minerals and the brine shrimp, if we had lower levels, we wouldn’t be able to produce as much,” Wolfgram said.
The uses of the Great Salt Lake mean more than $1.3 billion in economic output to the state of Utah.