Toxic lakebed dust: Worsening with climate change

Fallout: That’s nasty stuff. Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about with wind-blown toxic lakebed dust. And, if that weren’t enough, conditions are being exacerbated by the effects of a changing climate.

In order to fully understand what’s on the line here, we need to understand both the problem and its extent.

Because of climate change coupled with a warming planet, the earth (the surface, really) is gaining ground, meaning, bodies of water including lakes, rivers and reservoirs, are losing supply and that translates into the water-supply sources running low and/or slow, losing content and, in some cases, becoming totally dry. A problem that isn’t exclusive to the western U.S. – regions throughout the entire world are, as well, affected. We see evidence of this in news-reel footage and via tv documentary presentations dealing with this issue.

While much of the water goes to growing food and feeding a growing – and hungry – population, other fractional amounts are allocated to communities for consumption, cooking, cleaning, watering, cooling and recreational uses. Some is dedicated to suppressing fires – structure and wilderness, obviously. Which means the supplies must be there when needed. That which doesn’t get tapped, occupies lakes, provides habitat for fish and other aquatic life, or courses inexorably to the seas.

The fractional portion, the part responsible for lake creation, that’s what we’re concerned with here.

The falling lake levels are not the only worry. Compounding this apprehension is the part where when lake levels drop, and where lake bottoms become exposed to air, such, under the sun’s sometimes intense heat, simply dry up. Add to this a strong wind blowing across a dry lakebed and that can spell even more trouble.

And, a number of lakes have faced – or are facing – just such a situation, the problem amplified many times when that wind carries in it toxic elements creating what’s oft referred to as toxic dust.

Meanwhile, in locations like in Utah’s Salt Lake Basin and in California’s Imperial Valley in and around the Salton Sea, for residents living nearby, they are constantly reminded of the toxic fallout that, figuratively speaking, exists right in their own backyard.

The toxic elements of concern in the Salt Lake Basin are heavy metals and arsenic, while in the vicinity of the Salton Sea it is the former and latter plus chemicals – herbicides and pesticides – coming from agricultural runoff. These poisons, when becoming airborne, pose a real health threat.

Inland seas

The Salton Sea was created by a breach in a canal fed by the Colorado River in 1905. The Imperial Valley based lake resulted when water pouring out of that canal filled the Salton Sea land sink, a depression sitting below sea level at a depth of 235 feet.

As for the Great Salt Lake, it sits predominantly northwest of its namesake city. The lake’s water level is currently at 60 percent of what is considered to be normal.

Global warming has accelerated the process of the lake drying up.

Contributing, meanwhile, to the Salton Sea’s longevity is the fact that a river empties into it – the New River, in this case. Pollution in the river finds its way to the lake.

Air pollution in the area, on the other hand, appears to be the amalgamation of dust from natural sources combined with contaminated dust from the area surrounding the lake as well as from the lake itself. Cleanup plans to deal with this stuff come and go and all this while the lake size continues to shrink.

– Alan Kandel

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