Our Salt Lake

I heard some info about our future in this state regarding the Great Salt Lake. Frankly, it put chills up my spine and made me wonder if I should be thinking of an exit plan before it’s too late to get the hell out of Dodge because our lake is dying FAST and the outcome is going to be horrific!

Our photographed, but much maligned lake is about 75 miles long and 28 miles wide covering @1700 square miles, and is the largest lake of it’s kind in the western hemisphere. It is also one of the most important bodies of water for bird migration in this same hemisphere, and if the lake dies, millions of migratory birds will also die…as wells mammals, plants, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Many of you reading this don’t know that part of the lake is fresh water and is fed by northern streams. This is where our avian friends like to rest before migrating north or south. According to Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute millions of birds from 257 known species rely on our funky, salty lake to survive.

The southern portion of the GSL is now at a historic new low-with some levels only 1.5 feet deep. There is algae and tiny creatures there that the brine shrimp feed on, and all those birds love to get fat on those sea monkeys (aka brine shrimp). If those creatures all die, then the birds will die. As the lake dries up from poor runoff that leads into the north and south sections, more dust will get into our air. U.S Magnesium Corp. mines the lake and provides 14% of the world’s supply of the mineral that’s used in all sorts of metal products. Companies also take potash (fertilizer) and salt for seasonings, plastics, roads and detergents. All that gets into our air and ends up in the winter on top of our snow. That dust and color change affects our snow melt. Lower snow melt means less water for the lake. Do you see the trending circle of hell?

Our legislature passed a bill a few years back that basically states ‘Our lake is important to the state and it should have water’. However this bill did nothing to fund programs to increase water flow to the lake.

Every hour on the hour radio and TV news squawk about Covid and what it’s doing to our country. I rarely see news about how scary it’s going to be if and when our lake no longer produces the food necessary in the environmental chain of life in Utah. Odd, but most local television news that I watch gives regular reports on Lake Powell, Echo, Sand Hollow, Bear Lake, etc. but never a regular report on our Great Salt Lake.  The professor I listened to said that come this November we may reach the tipping point that the lake won’t come back from this drought and we’re in for bad news on the horizon.

Tiny Town

Los Angeles has built apartments for homeless people out of shipping crates. The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village is located close to downtown L.A. on 4.2 acres. You might recognize her name if you’ve lived in California, as she chairs the LA County Board of Supervisors.  This amazing project offers 232 housing units along with a common building that holds a commercial kitchen, dining area, laundry facilities and administrative offices. There’s also a dog park, good parking and wise landscaping.

The simplicity of this project is beautiful. The steel shipping crates were stacked atop each other to three stories. They are stacked and fixed into place, with stairs and ramps leading up and down. Each container is able to offer two apartments, each about 135 square feet, and each equipped with a private bathroom (shower, toilet, sink), a twin bed, microwave (not stove), small refrigerator, it’s own heat/AC unit and a flat screen TV attached to the wall. It opened this spring and was fully occupied within 30 days. It cost $57 million to build, but $51 million of the total cost came from monies generated by the CARES Act during Covid and the rest paid for by Los Angeles County.

Why do we care about what LA is doing? Well Salt Lake City is all a buzz with a new planned development of mini homes being created in a partnership between Salt Lake City government and the non-profit, The Other Side Academy in an industrial area of the west side on about 1800 West and 800 South (Indiana). Currently the 45 acres there has one home and a huge auto junkyard as neighbors, and so to actually build a mini home subdivision a major zoning change would have to occur. Although this isn’t a plan to use shipping containers, it is a credible idea that could make an impact on the lack of housing options for the unsheltered…about 400 of them if this plan succeeds.

I have seen the proposed renderings of the subdivision and it looks pretty cool on paper, with plenty of green space around the homes and a mix of some retail and office space as well as room for community gardens and common spaces.  The goal would be to have non-profit service providers on site to counsel inhabitants to improve mental health (if needed), assist in job searches and a space for medical services. A lot of the idea for this project come from a truly successful program in Austin, Texas, called Community First! Village which was built by a non-profit in Texas (‘Loaves & Fishes’) back in 2004. It has enabled hundreds of chronically homeless people living on the streets. They were able to get their master-planned community of men and women through the ‘NIMBY’s who feared such a group of people coming to live in their city. Funny, but those people were already living in their city!

Let’s cross our fingers that maybe Joseph Grenny and his Utahcentric Other Side Academy can do the same here for our unsheltered friends that Texas has been able to do for theirs.

ECON 101

Remember back in Econ 101 when we learned what a GDP is? Refresher: It’s the market value of all the goods and services produced in a certain geographic area. Places with a large GDP will generally have a high standard of living. Politicians and economists want their city, county, state and/or country to have a great GDP, and Utah now has that golden ray of sun shining through the clouds at us right now. Forbes magazine has just rated us the number one state with the biggest growth in our gross domestic products. But really, what does that mean?

Utah’s economy is HOT. It has been for several years. Our GDP has grown from $123.47 billion in 2010 to $168.62 billion in 2020 (despite COVID). It grew 82% from 2000 to 2020 and the pandemic barely seems to have made a major difference in our state’s production machinery, having come back from the pandemic faster than any other state. We have a diversified economy that’s strong in technology, oil, gas, salt and coal mining, tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and finance.

Sadly though, the drought we’re suffering may tilt some of the figures into negative columns in the next few years and slow our GDP. For example, farmers can’t get water to grow hay, ranchers are planning to sell off stock because hay is too expensive and beef prices will be skyrocketing. Snow totals are down and expected to get worse which will affect tourism at our resorts. This despite how well we are known since we hosted the world in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The next nine states with the highest GDP are Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, California, Texas, Georgia and Florida. The western states are all experiencing extreme weather conditions which include heat and drought as well as fires. GDP can turn sour if we buy less, government cuts back on spending, we export less and business investment falls. Utah exports a wide variety of goods, like microchips, medical equipment, aircraft parts, and auto safety products. But if you want to win the weekly trivia night at your local pub, answer this question: What is our largest mineral export? (fade in Jeopardy music). GOLD. Utah and Nevada are the two states neck and neck with gold production.

If you’re a stats geek or just interested in following the health of our economy, watch the periodic, but regular GDP reports. If the measurement in Utah begins to drop that means we’re going to see a decline in per capital income. The poor will suffer more than the rich, as in the adage ‘The poor will get poorer, the rich, richer’. When you hear reporters talk of businesses suffering in declining revenues and unemployment is rising, the talk will start up again to sus out if we are heading into a recession. What we do know right now is that food and gas prices are just going up, up and up which is making an impact on all our standards of living.