Youth act dead during the Great Salt Lake "die-in" demonstration hosted by the Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES). The protest was organized to shine a light on the lake's decline and the resulting environmental impacts. (Saige Miller, KUER)

Over 100 people walked silently in a single file on the dry Great Salt Lake bed Saturday.

They wanted to send a message to elected Utah leaders that a healthy Great Salt Lake is vital to the environment, residents and future generations. They called on legislators to preserve the lake by investing in practical solutions like reducing water usage.

This year, Great Salt Lake hit another record low. Speakers at the event said it’s primarily because the water from tributaries is being used for things like harvesting alfalfa and bolstering development instead of making it to the lake.

“We really want to see water from the Bear River not being diverted and seeing the water flow into the Great Salt Lake,” said Natalie Roberts, a 15-year-old member of Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES), the group that organized the “die-in.”

After walking on the crunchy lake bed for roughly three minutes, the crowd arrived at a makeshift graveyard with mock tombstones with messages such as “Utah lawmakers have failed us” and “R.I.P. Killed by bad air quality.”

As UYES youth leaders Sheyda Allen,16, and Myra Hicks, 16, listed the environmental impacts of the declining lake, the crowd dropped to their backs on the salty ground.

“We have a lot more to lose than what originally meets the eye,” Hicks said. “Utah wildlife is one of the biggest things suffering. Down to the brine shrimp in the lake and up to the plants in the Wasatch Front.”

Through poetry, chants, speeches, songs and visual performances, members of UYES and other attendees expressed what the lake means to them.

Roberts, a student at West High, said without the lake, “we see less water in the mountains, less water in our water system, less water for us to drink.”

“And with toxic dust bowls that are starting to roll through and will continue to get worse and worse, we will see increased air pollution, we’ll see increased deaths and conditions related to breathing this toxic air,” she continued.

Roberts hoped the “die-in” would bring more “emotional value” to the dire situation facing the lake and the negative outcomes already beginning if the salty waters turn into dust.

One adult speaker, Flor Isabel, Community Leadership Coordinator at United Way of Salt Lake, said they used to visit Great Salt Lake often. The last time they loaded up their four kids for a trip to the lake, “there wasn’t any water to swim in.”

As a result of the receding lake, the Kearns resident said they went from using one inhaler to relying on three to treat their asthma because the air quality has gotten so bad. They said their kids also suffer from asthma to the point they can’t play outside on bad air days.

Samantha Pensari, another adult and lifelong Utah resident, said the lake is a landmark.

“I've seen it shrink, but, really being out here and seeing how much it has is really heartbreaking,” she said, pointing to the lake’s shore a mile or so away.

Despite their lack of presence at the event, Roberts said she wants elected officials to hear UYES’s message.

“They continue to ignore the problem that is so visible — the Great Salt Lake drying up,” Roberts said. “And they continue to come up with solutions that are just ridiculous, like building a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean. That is not an attainable solution.”

State and federal lawmakers have set aside money to study the feasibility of a pipeline. Experts say that while the idea would be complicated and expensive, it’s worth exploring.

Muskan Walia, a 20-year-old University of Utah student who helped the youth organize the event, said she did so to remind people of the tangible solutions available to save Great Salt Lake. She also called on Utah lawmakers to let go of their interests in extracting its resources for the sake of residents.

“Put them aside for the people of Utah and for our health and for our biodiversity and our economy,” Walia said.

KUER Political Reporter

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