Increased water demand from a growing Utah population, in combination with decreasing river flows—a symptom of drought and changing climate—has degraded ecosystems in and around Great Salt Lake, a critical stopover point for migrating birds in an arid landscape.
Great Salt Lake, with its five globally Important Bird Areas, is drying up. Less water means fewer wetlands and the elimination of vital bird habitat, increased salt content threatening the food supply for birds in the lake, and, in several situations, vast areas of dry lakebed, exposing dust that impact neighboring communities.
In the face of this predicament, water leaders and policymakers are being forced to systematically rethink how water is used and managed in the West, and figure out how to do more with less. As these new water-sharing plans are hammered out, it’s critically important that the water needs of birds and other wildlife aren’t just carved out of the new agreements that emerge, but are built into them from the start.
With Audubon’s expertise in both Western water policy and conservation science, we are uniquely positioned to identify long-term water-management solutions that will secure a reliable water supply for Great Salt Lake and for the birds, businesses, and Utahns that depend on it.
Above: Water development over the last 150 years has reduced river inflows to Great Salt Lake by an estimated 39 percent, resulting in an 11-foot drop in lake level and 48 percent reduction in volume. This Google timelapse shows the changes in lake levels and the resulting exposed lake bed.
Audubon manages the 2,738-acre Gillmor Sanctuary and 305-acre Lee Creek Area along the southeastern shoreline of Great Salt Lake. The Sanctuary and adjacent land offers diverse habitats for birds, including wetlands critical for shorebirds.
Over the past 20 years, Audubon’s stewardship of this area significantly increased the population of nesting water birds, including American Avocets, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-necked Stilts, Cinnamon Teal, and Gadwall. The preserve also provides essential resources for migrating Marbled Godwits, Least and Western Sandpipers, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as thousands of migrating waterfowl including Tundra Swans.
Through the establishment of the preserve, Audubon and partners protect and restore one of the last remaining undiked delta systems along Great Salt Lake.