• =?UTF-8?Q?Booming_Utah=E2=80=99s_Weak_Link=3A_Surging_Air_Pollution?=

    From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Mon Sep 13 00:55:41 2021
    Booming Utah’s Weak Link: Surging Air Pollution
    By Simon Romero, 9/7/21, NY Times

    SALT LAKE CITY — Kevin Perry had just begun his morning
    routine, stepping outside to get the newspaper, when he
    noticed something was wrong with the sky.

    “Within 30 seconds, I was coughing and my throat hurt,”
    Dr. Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of
    Utah, said of that morning in August. “It was the absolute
    worst air quality I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

    Shrouded in smoke drifting from California’s colossal
    wildfires 500 miles away, Salt Lake City had on that morning
    edged past smog-choked megacities like New Delhi and Jakarta
    to register the most polluted air of any major city in the

    The grim distinction alarmed both longtime residents and
    newcomers to Utah, where a red-hot economy and easy access
    to outdoor pursuits like skiing and mountain biking are
    fueling the fastest-growing population of any state.

    But the consequences of the growth, including more vehicles
    on the road, & this summer’s wildfire smoke are aggravating
    an already bleak deterioration in air quality brought on
    by a prolonged drought.

    Scientists say the drought, plus water diversions, has
    shriveled the Great Salt Lake, the country’s largest body
    of water after the Great Lakes, to its lowest levels in over
    a century. The result is vast areas of parched lake bed,
    similar to the dried-up Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union,
    exposing millions of people in Utah to dust storms laced
    with arsenic and other toxic elements.

    “Every time the wind blows, we’re subject to the dust from
    these dry lake beds being scattered all over,” said Dr.
    Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy
    Environment. “There are residuals of pesticides & agricul-
    tural chemicals that migrated into the lake over many decades.”

    For the moment, the slow-motion ecological disaster of the
    shrinking Great Salt Lake appears to stand in contrast to
    the vibrancy of Salt Lake City, a nerve center for a $1.5
    billion skiing industry that is also home to outdoor
    clothing companies like Black Diamond, Cotopaxi and Kuhl.

    But while the outdoor recreation industry relies on blue-sky
    imagery, scientists say that air quality around the Wasatch
    Front, the metropolitan region where about 80% of people in
    Utah live, is getting much worse than many residents realize.

    The bowl-like topography of the valley that includes SLC
    creates an inversion that traps air pollution — generally
    during the wintertime — from sources like motor vehicle
    exhaust. It's much like the situation in Santiago, the
    Chilean capital cradled in mountains that is one of Latin
    America’s most polluted cities.

    A newer problem throughout the year, amplified by the
    population boom, is ground-level ozone pollution from
    sources such as power plants and cars, which can increase
    the frequency of asthma attacks and aggravate lung diseases
    like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

    The EPA in 2018 designated the northern Wasatch Front
    airshed, which includes part of the SLC area, as being in
    violation of federal ozone standards. The move spawned
    bitter political quarreling over whether Utah’s petroleum
    and mining industries were pushing ozone levels higher.

    Expressing alarm over the deteriorating air quality, esp.
    in the winter, the skiing magazine Powder warned, “We may
    start to see visitors in Salt Lake traveling with
    gas masks along with their ski gear.”

    The wildfire smoke now blowing in from California, where
    several large blazes continue to burn, is also an extra-
    ordinarily toxic form of pollution. The particles can be
    much smaller than those from smokestacks, making them easier
    to inhale and get picked up by the bloodstream.

    Then there is the shriveling of the Great Salt Lake. While
    the lake’s water level has fluctuated greatly over time,
    the U.S. Geological Survey found in July that it had reached
    its lowest mark since measurements began in 1875.

    When at its average water elevation, the lake, which
    accumulates salt and other minerals because it has no
    outlet to the ocean, spreads over 1,700 sq mi. But it spans
    only about 950 sq mi today after losing 44% of its surface
    area, an area larger than the city of Houston.

    The lake’s shrinkage makes for surreal scenes. On Antelope
    Island, near a once-bustling marina that is now idled and
    empty, dozens of microbialites, the reeflike mounds created
    by millions of microbes, stand exposed to the air.

    Because the lake’s brine shrimp and brine flies rely on
    the microbialites as their primary food source, & because
    millions of birds feed on the shrimp and flies, falling
    water levels could trigger a collapse in the lake’s food
    chain if more microbialites are threatened, according to
    a study in July by the Utah Geological Survey.

    Elsewhere around the Great Salt Lake, visitors who could
    once enjoy picnic tables at shore’s edge must now trek
    across a dry lake bed to dip their toes in the water;
    shipwrecks have begun emerging as the water recedes.

    Julie Mattingly, commodore of the Great Salt Lake Yacht
    Club, which was founded in 1877, said dozens of boats at
    risk of being stuck in the lake bed were removed this
    year and placed in dry storage.

    “There’s no yachting at the moment on the lake,” Ms.
    Mattingly said, adding that membership in the club had
    dwindled this year from about 100 members to 13. Now,
    she said, members do “land cruises,” where they drive
    around and look at historic sites along the lake.

    The Great Salt Lake’s decline has drawn comparisons to
    the crisis around the Aral Sea, which was once the world’s
    4th-largest body of inland water. It began drying up in
    the 60s when the former Soviet Union built water diversion
    projects to irrigate parts of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and

    Now much of the area is one of the world’s youngest
    deserts, which unleashes dust storms on almost a weekly
    basis and is known by some as the Aral Sands. Closer to
    Utah, scientists also compare the collapsing water levels
    to Owens Lake in California, which had its water diverted
    to Los Angeles about a century ago.

    Since then, Owens Lake has also emerged as a site of huge
    dust storms, turning into the country’s largest single
    source of PM 10, a type of particle pollution that can
    irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

    “We’ve seen this happen at terminal basin lakes around
    the world,” said Dr. Perry, the atmospheric scientist.
    He said the prolonged drought had resulted in disappointing
    snowfall in surrounding mountains; while the lake can gain
    up to two feet from spring runoff, the smaller snowpack
    over the winter raised its level by just six inches.

    Another factor involves Utah’s policies of diverting
    fresh water from the sources that feed the lake. Over 60%
    of the redirected water goes to agriculture.

    “We divert too much water from the Great Salt Lake,”
    Dr. Perry said.

    As the lake continues to shrink, the consequences of such
    policies are raising alarm. A study by researchers at
    Brigham Young U., the U. of Utah & Middlebury College in
    Vermont showed that 90% of dust in the Wasatch Front came
    from dry lake beds.

    “There’s the potential there for a very large impact from
    that dust on our population,” said Bryce Bird, director
    of the Utah Division of Air Quality, referring to drying
    areas of the Great Salt Lake.

    At the same time, demand for water is soaring in Utah as
    its population climbs higher. While the entire state is
    in severe drought, according to the National Drought
    Mitigation Ctr, many homeowners in SLC maintain lush lawns.

    Utah stands in contrast to other parched states in the
    West that have moved more aggressively to limit water
    consumption, such as Nevada, which this year banned
    “nonfunctional” grass, including some lawns. Gov. Spencer
    Cox recently said he was exploring the possibility of
    similar measures in Utah.

    Despite the concerns over water supplies & the Great
    Salt Lake, Utah’s water consumption dwarfs that of many
    other states, including in other arid climates. Sarah
    Null, a prof of watershed studies at Utah State U., said
    the state uses about 150-200 gallons a day per person.

    Still, Jaimi Butler, coordinator of the Great Salt Lake
    Inst. at Westminster College, said the already dire air
    quality readings were set to get worse. “All of this is
    happening while we aren’t really seeing the effects of
    climate change yet,” she said.


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