Grow the Flow, other organizations gather at Capitol for Great Salt Lake rally

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Rally attendees hold signs on the steps of the Utah Capitol building. The rally took place on Jan. 20, 2024. (Ethan Pack)

Hundreds of people gathered at the steps of the Utah Capitol building on Saturday, Jan. 20 to raise awareness and public support for the Great Salt Lake’s critically low water levels and sustainability efforts.

Participants carried signs, wore costumes depicting native wildlife and listened to local experts and leaders involved in sustainability efforts speak about ways to help fill the rapidly depleting lake. Local water security organizations set up information tables and handed out pamphlets about the Great Salt Lake.

“Yeah, the lake’s already mostly gone. We’ve lost two-thirds of its area and 75% of its water. So this isn’t something that will happen, it’s something that’s happening now,” Ben Abbott, executive director of Grow the Flow and professor of environmental science and sustainability at BYU, said. 

The lake’s overall health has been in decline and is now at an all-time low due to Utah’s water needs, and organizations like Grow the Flow know greater action needs to be taken before the lake is past saving, he said.

Abbott said several major issues will arise if the Great Salt Lake continues to drop. The Great Salt Lake is a major source of brine shrimp, used to feed 45% of shrimp sold worldwide, as well as minerals such as magnesium and potash, the latter of which is used as an ingredient in fertilizers, he said.

Abbott said that were the lake to dry up, dust and harmful toxins collected in the lake’s sediment would become airborne, causing health issues such as asthma.

“One of the foundational ecological lessons that we’ve learned over the past 100 years is that there’s no separation between environment and society,” Abbott said.

Grow the Flow was formed after Abbott and a small group of researchers, lawyers and concerned citizens, published an emergency report in January 2023, detailing the Great Salt Lake’s situation. The organization seeks to involve Utahns in sustainability efforts and aims to develop an action network of 100,000 people who can assist in its mission, according to Grow the Flow’s website.

“We founded Grow the Flow to be an organization that everyone can participate in across political divides, across the urban/rural split, across different professions and backgrounds and levels of understanding,” Abbott said. “We wanted to create a place where everybody can participate.”

The rally was organized by Save Our Great Salt Lake, an organization aiming to raise awareness for the Great Salt Lake. Grow the Flow partnered with Save Our Great Salt Lake for the rally and other organizations, such as the Sageland Collaborative, Utah Food Coalition and SLC Air Protection.

Along with public outreach, members of Grow the Flow participate in research in order to gather data on the lake, said Rachel Wood, scientific director for Grow the Flow and a biology professor at BYU.

“I’m really excited about how much interest there is right now in the Great Salt Lake and how people really care,” Wood said. “That’s really encouraging to me because I think we’re the best hope for the Great Salt Lake.”

Wood said she researched Utah wetlands and saline lakes for the organization. She is currently working on a proposal for the National Science Foundation to obtain funding for a worldwide saline lake research network. Other saline lakes around the world are in similar situations as the Great Salt Lake, she said.

Several BYU students were in attendance at the rally, including students in Plant and Wildlife Sciences 480, a capstone course taught by Abbott.

“The lake itself has a right, not just the people drawing from it,” Alex Olson, a student in PWS 480, said. Olson said students in the capstone course hope to spread awareness about the degrading lake and plan on working this semester to do so.

According to Save Our Great Salt Lake’s official Instagram account, “The legislature has the power to make enormous strides to get water to Great Salt Lake, but it’s going to take a groundswell of community pressure to hold them accountable.” 

The account shared a post stating that more than 1,200 people attended the rally and has plans for additional events during the state legislative session.

Rally attendees gather at the steps of the Utah Capitol building and listen to local leaders and experts talk about the Great Salt Lake. Some attendees held up signs and images of birds, others dressed up like local wildlife found in and around the lake. (Ethan Pack)
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