Arsenic-Laced Dust From Drought-Ridden Great Salt Lake a Risk as Water Level Drops

As water levels at the Great Salt Lake reach a historic low, concerns about arsenic-lake dust from the lake bed are mounting due to its potential to further disrupt the area's ecosystem and disperse into the air people breathe.

The U.S. Geological Survey announced Saturday that average daily water levels had dropped about an inch below the previous 1963 record of 4,191.4 feet (1,278 meters).

Experts say the dust could impact the snowpack in the mountains surrounding the Great Salt Lake, making the snow melt faster and causing the water to become absorbed in the soil instead of reaching the lake.

The megadrought impacting the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River has already affected a nesting spot for pelicans, which are among the millions of birds dependent on the lake. Sailboats have had to be lifted out of the water to prevent them from getting stuck in the mud.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, continue below.

Great Salt Lake
FILE - The Great Salt Lake recedes from Antelope Island on May 4, 2021, near Salt Lake City. The water levels at the Great Salt Lake have hit a historic low, a grim milestone for the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River that comes as a mega drought grips the region. Rick Bowmer, File/AP Photo

The new record comes months earlier than when the lake typically hits its lowest level of the year, indicating water levels could continue to drop even further, said Candice Hasenyager, the deputy director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

People for years have been diverting water from rivers that flow into the lake to water crops and supply homes. Because the lake is shallow — about 35 feet (11 meters) at its deepest point — less water quickly translates to receding shorelines.

Most years, the Great Salt Lake gains up to two feet (half a meter) from spring runoff. This year, it was just six inches (15 centimeters).

The drought is drying up lakes across the West and worsening massive wildfires affecting California and Oregon. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, has begged people to cut back on lawn watering and "pray for rain."

Extreme conditions like these are often from a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change.

Scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms, and climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.