When will America's Great Salt Lake go dry?

Backed by David Lang
Raised of $5,616 Goal
Ended on 9/21/23
Campaign Ended
  • $5
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 9/21/23

About This Project

Utah's Great Salt Lake is receding alarmingly, threatening ecosystems and local livelihoods. Our project aims to assess future lake water levels using advanced hydroclimate simulations, providing valuable data for effective water management. We'll combine groundwater and hydrological data with innovative water storage modeling, informing water, land, and conservation policy. With a quantitative future projection, our research will help inform decision-makers about the best course of action.

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What is the context of this research?

The iconic Great Salt Lake, North America's largest closed-basin lake, faces severe water decline due to ongoing drought and human consumption. Essentially, the Great Salt Lake functions as a half-submerged evaporation pan in a semi-arid region, sustained by groundwater inflow over time. This groundwater-lake interaction, often overlooked in previous climate assessments, is our focus. We're applying advanced hydroclimate simulations, integrating groundwater data with water storage modeling, to depict the lake's complete response to climate shifts and groundwater depletion. Using the recognized correlation between lake and groundwater levels, we'll simulate future trends, while drawing on past lake models and paleoclimate datasets for a thorough understanding.

What is the significance of this project?

Our hydroclimatic modeling study of the Great Salt Lake's future water level offers vital insights for the region's water, land, and air policy development. It leverages innovative methodologies by combining groundwater data and total water storage modeling to simulate the Great Salt Lake's response to climate scenarios and human consumption. By integrating state-of-the-art climate modeling with traditional data, we enhance upon previous models, enabling a comprehensive assessment of future lake level decline.The quantitative projection will empower stakeholders with actionable data for proactive water resource management, land use, and conservation planning. Furthermore, this study bolsters climate change policies, underpinning the region's long-term sustainability.

What are the goals of the project?

Our objective is to amplify understanding of the Great Salt Lake's water dynamics, with a focus on the understudied groundwater-lake interaction while taking into account recent groundwater depletion. We'll employ hydroclimate simulations, integrating groundwater data and water storage modeling, to depict the lake's response to climate change and groundwater depletion. Groundwater well data and CESM2 simulations will inform our model. Utilizing the correlation between lake and groundwater levels, we'll project lake trends up to 2100 with a probabilistic approach, considering total water storage change that’s validated by groundwater decline. Cross-referencing our findings with past models and paleoclimate datasets, we'll provide actionable insights for regional policy development.


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Data analysis is at the heart of the proposed project. The budget of $5,000 will be primarily allocated towards a graduate student's wages, who will conduct data sorting and analysis for the study duration. Expenses associated with site visits, as well as essentials like computers and software, will be covered by The Wang Lab at Utah State University. This funding is crucial as it can help enlist a competent undergraduate student to pursue graduate education on one of the most significant environmental issues affecting our region.

Endorsed by

This questions is being asked by the people of Utah as well as by scientists around the world who study and understand the consequences of drying lakes and their potential health and environmental impacts. Entities within Utah have in the past year given more attention and now water, to the Great Salt Lake. Simon Wang is a world renown climate diagnostic scientist with substantial expertise on the climatic conditions leading to variations in lake level and his research will add critical understanding to how the GSL can best be sustained.

Project Timeline

Over the next 12 months, we'll enter Phases 1 and 2 of our project. First, we'll collect and analyze groundwater data, develop our water storage model, and run initial climate simulations. Then, we'll proceed to run more comprehensive climate model simulations and develop water level projections. Following the simulations, our findings will be instrumental in formulating policies addressing climate change and water management, aiming to ensure Utah's sustainable future.

Jul 24, 2023

Project Launched

Feb 14, 2024

Projected the water storage's future in the Great Salt Lake watershed.

May 15, 2024

Analyze the projection and build a probabilistic assessment of the future water levels.

Aug 14, 2024

Provide the quantitative Great Salt Lake water level projection to the general public and water managers.

Meet the Team

Simon Wang
Simon Wang


Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate | Utah State University
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Simon Wang

Dr. Simon Wang, a tenured professor at Utah State University of 14 years, brings his expertise and passion to this project on the future of the Great Salt Lake. He earned an MS in Meteorology from Iowa State University and a PhD in 2008. His work delves into drought, floods, storms, and wildfires.

With 170 peer-review publications to date, Dr. Wang is devoted to understanding and addressing climate extremes, frequently contributing to media discussions and public forums. He's actively collaborating with scientists, policymakers, and community leaders to tackle climate impacts. At Utah State University, he teaches courses on climate science, mentors graduate students, and co-founded the USU Climate Science Degrees. This program exposes students to climate change research, fostering their understanding and engagement.

Dr. Wang's academic excellence is widely recognized. He was named the International Professor of the Year, the Graduate Mentor of the Year, and twice the Faculty Researcher of the Year. His academic book won the prestigious PROSE Award. Dr. Wang's robust qualifications and dedication make him integral to the success of this Great Salt Lake project. He is also an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, which are critical to preserving the Great Salt Lake.

Additional Information

How should we comprehend water diversion? The consumption argument proposed by Wurtsbaugh et al. indicates that a) diversion data are inhomogeneous and became informative only post-1990, and b) during periods of improved data quality, consumption exhibited cycles of highs and lows inversely correlated with the quasi-decadal drought cycle, as compared to the drought cycle outlined in Wang et al. The key insight is that consumption of the GSL is not solely a human concern but also significantly impacted by nature's drought cycles, such as increased groundwater withdrawal in the time of drought. Thus, water usage must be considered in tandem with aridification, positioning it as a climate issue to be modeled and analyzed in this study.

Project Backers

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