News from Utah: Pelicans, Toxic Dust & Water

Pelicans swimming on Utah water
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  • Pelican nesting has resumed on Hat and Gunnison Islands after abandonment.
  • Rising water levels are improving the Great Salt Lake’s condition.
  • Toxic dust from the exposed lakebed poses significant health risks.
  • Water levels in Utah are currently above average due to heavy snowfall.

May 15, 2024 — Pelican nesting has resumed on Utah’s Hat and Gunnison Islands, toxic dust from the Great Salt Lake is being addressed, and heavy snowfall has improved the state’s water outlook.

Pelicans Return to Hat Island.

After the American white pelicans abandoned their colony on Gunnison Island last year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) observed the birds nesting on Hat Island for the first time since 1943Opens in a new tab.. Both islands, located in the Great Salt Lake, serve as protected bird rookeries, providing isolation and protection for nesting birds. Due to disturbances from predators, these islands have not functioned as true islands for years. However, pelicans are resilient and have begun nesting on both islands again. The DWR is conducting ongoing surveys to monitor pelican populations, which currently estimate around 800 birds on Gunnison Island and 1,300 on Hat Island. While the number of nests has decreased since the 1970s, the return of the pelicans to these islands indicates a positive trend for the species.

Addressing Toxic Dust Issues.

The Great Salt Lake CollaborativeOpens in a new tab. reports that the Great Salt Lake Commissioner’s Office is addressing the issue of potentially toxic dustOpens in a new tab. blowing from the exposed lakebed into nearby communities. This dust, containing harmful minerals like arsenic, lead, and cadmium, poses significant health risks. Despite recent snowpack increasing water levels, only 15-20% of documented dust hotspots have been covered. Scientists are studying the impact of this dust, which includes mapping hotspots and monitoring air quality to assess the potential risks. Efforts are being made to relocate air quality monitors and improve data collection on dust and its effects. The ultimate solution to mitigating the dust problem lies in increasing the water levels of the lake, which remains challenging due to ongoing drought conditions.

Encouraging Water Outlook for Utah; Ongoing Conservation Efforts.

Utah’s last water outlook published March 2024Opens in a new tab. is promising, marked by record-breaking snowfall and favorable soil moisture levels. The state received 157% of its typical snow water equivalent (SWE) in February, leading to a statewide SWE of 117%. This increase has positively impacted the Great Salt Lake, which has risen 1.8 feet since October. The rising water levels have improved conditions for the lake’s ecosystem, including reducing salinity and benefiting the brine shrimp population. Utah’s reservoirs are currently at 83% capacity, significantly higher than normal. This robust water storage underscores the importance of continued investments in water infrastructure to ensure long-term water security.

Conservation and water management remain critical as Utah heads into the traditionally wettest months. Initiatives like the Agricultural Optimization Program and aim to educate and incentivize water-saving practices among residents and farmers. These efforts are essential for building drought resilience and ensuring sustainable water use for future generations. Monitoring and adapting to changing water conditions will be crucial in maintaining the health and stability of Utah’s water systems and natural resources.

Image Credit: Utah Division of Wildlife ResourcesOpens in a new tab..


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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