Pollution, encroaching development and a drop in salinity continue to threaten the Great Salt Lake and the wildlife and industries it supports.
But some presenters at Saturday's second Great Salt Lake Issues Forum said better planning and more cooperation among governmental and private agencies may be a first step toward protecting the lake environment now and in the future.Robert Adler, associate professor specializing in environmental law at the University of Utah, said he is glad the state's Department of Natural Resources has started a comprehensive planning effort for the lake.
However, in order for that effort to be successful, Adler said, it needs to take into account the lake's entire 35,000-square-mile watershed.
"It's all connected, so we need to plan in that connected way," Adler told about 100 people at the daylong forum, which was sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of Great Salt Lake.
He said at least eight Utah state agencies, nine federal agencies, six counties that border the lake and numerous municipalities need to work together to find solutions to the lake's problems.
"Let's shift the focus from resource use and allocation . . . to resource restoration and protection," Adler said. "Our human interests in the lake are no more important than those of the pelicans and the eagles . . .
"Great Salt Lake is a sustainable ecosystem, so we need to plan for sustainability."
The multi-million dollar brine shrimp industry depends on that ecosystem to provide the cysts it harvests to sell to the world's fish hatcheries.
Howard Newman, executive manager of Inve Aquaculture Inc., said the Great Salt Lake has consistently supplied more than 90 percent of the brine shrimp cysts in the world market.
But the state had to close down the last harvest early, in October 1997, to make sure enough shrimp would remain for this year, said Gary Belovsky, a Utah State University natural resources professor.
Doyle Stephens, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said the lake's dropping salinity may be contributing to lower brine shrimp numbers. As the salt level has dropped from 14 percent in late 1995 to about 10.5 percent in places now, he said, so has the supply of the best phytoplankton food source for the brine shrimp.
"This year's harvest (of about 6.1 million pounds of cysts) was less than satisfactory," he said.
Speakers said other wildlife that depend on the lake and its surrounding wetlands may be harmed by the proposed Legacy Highway, which would run through western Davis and Salt Lake counties.
Kent Hansen of the Utah Department of Transportation said studies show transportation demand along the Wasatch Front will double by the year 2020, so the highway is necessary. And he said UDOT will try to build it in a way that has minimal impact on the lake environment.
But Roger Borgenicht, chairman of the Future Moves Coalition, said Utah may have other transportation options that would not require more roads.
Studies show that, even with the new highway and I-15 expansion, traffic delays and resulting pollution will be worse in the future, Borgenicht said. So instead of building roads and promoting increased use of cars, the state should create an effective mass transit system and plan for the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.
"It's a matter of policy, both public and private," he said. "I don't think we're wedded to our cars. . . . But (mass transit) has got to be attractive, and it's got to be convenient. It can't be second-class."