This column, if you can believe, comes from a place of optimism.

I read a story recently in “The New York Times” that scared the hell out of me. (Some readers may want to click away just hearing the source. I ask you to stick around with an open mind.) Utah’s Great Salt Lake has entered a critical stage. In the space of just a generation, it shrank by two-thirds. I can wrap my head around 10, 15, even 25% fluctuations over decades. That makes sense to me. I find it bonkers that a lake — an entire late — could shrink in 30 years to under 1,000 square miles of surface area from 3,300. Clearly, some regional equilibrium has tilted.

I gather from reading up on this that the greater Salt Lake City area has a special, oasis quality. The Wasatch Range juts out of the desert. Snowpack from the mountains feeds rivers that feed the Great Salt Lake. The lake generates snowfall to replenish the snowpack.

But those rivers also provide water for much of the region, which supports 2.5 million people (and growing fast). Therein lies the rub, as they say. As the area grows, the population uses more water before it even gets to the Great Salt Lake. Persistent Western U.S. droughts, hotter weather and shrinking snowpack only complicate the situation.

Why does this matter? Regionally, it affects millions of people. The exposed lakebed holds high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals, the result of decades of mining in the area. That could mean including “toxic dust storms” in area forecasts. The lake also provides a pillar for the area’s economy and the ecology.

The scary part? Experts say it may already be too late. As the lake shrinks the salinity spikes. Soon, it may not support even brackish sea life.

I have a tough time grasping that a thing as big as a lake could just vanish. I mean, it’s the Great Salt Lake — a thing in the back of my mind I always thought I’d visit, like the Pyramids or the Cliffs of Dover. Like those things, it never enters the mind that they might just not be there.

The solution? I don’t have the big idea that balances population growth, human nature and Mother Nature — all strong opposing forces. I do expect Mother Nature to have the final say here unless we find ways to strike that balance, though.

As I said, this column comes from a place of optimism. Drillers and those in the groundwater industry know that water sits at the heart of everything we do. Everyone, on some level, does. It comes down to human nature, which always wrestles with individual versus collective action. The Great Lakes states have plenty of water. Why should I worry about Utah? Because the rest of the country didn’t really care about the Dust Bowl until big clouds of Oklahoma and Kansas soil hit Washington, D.C. Then, it took wholesale changes to the way we farmed and a generation of working together to fix.

I believe we can work together to do big things like save the Great Salt Lake. Solving water problems is what we do. That fact makes me optimistic. But it’ll take work.

What do you think? Do you worry that people outside the industry fail to grasp the value of water? Do you think climate fears are overblown? Send an email to

Stay safe out there, drillers.

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