The Great Salt Lake has struggled for at least a decade. Due to diversions, drought and climate change, the heart of Utah’s ecology and economy has been losing water each year. In 2022 it shrunk to half its size and the danger to Utah’s economy, environment and health grew.
Over the years, local journalists have told stories about the disappearing lake, but with little measurable impact. In 2022, Utah journalists realized independent approaches weren’t enough. The only way to ensure all Utahns had the facts about what was happening was to join forces.
The result was the Great Salt Lake Collaborative — 21 news organizations, scientists and educators working together for a common cause by combining their power and reach. Catalyzed by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network and funded by the Knight Foundation, we better inform and engage the public about the crisis facing the lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.
Media partners agreed to share, in full, stories they produce about the lake with other Collaborative newsroom audiences. The work is also available at greatsaltlakenews.org — a one-stop shop for all local news about the lake. This makes it easy for Utahns to stay informed. Newsrooms have collectively covered the risks of toxic dust from the dry lakebed, the decline of the lake’s food chain, the impact of the lake’s collapse on migratory birds and brine shrimp, the role of agriculture and municipal development in the lake’s decline, the role the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could play in saving the lake, and more. The Collaborative also focuses on evidence-based solutions, holding government accountable by showing Utahns how other communities solve similar problems.
The Collaborative launched major solutions projects, exploring:
* Ways to save the Great Salt Lake, or how to live with it if it continues to shrink, by reporting on Owens and Mono lakes in California.
* How Las Vegas has reduced water consumption with strict conservation orders compared to voluntary measures in Utah.
* How Israel moved from water scarcity to surplus and what practices and technologies state leaders may adopt in Utah.
Collaborative newsrooms report on solutions as part of their regular coverage, including how farmers, homeowners, data centers and mining companies can save water. Collaborative newsrooms have also analyzed why other solutions won’t work, such as a pipeline from the ocean and tree-thinning.
The Collaborative includes community organizations to reach Utahns where they are at. We:
* Created a free 400-page book of stories, poetry and artwork as a community anthology and held a gala to celebrate the work.
* Hosted library events in Northern Utah that focused on solutions with panelists that included policymakers, scientists, journalists, historians and advocates.
* Answered questions from the public about the lake. Answers are on the website, run on air and are published in a zine.
* Created an audio postcard series to collect Utahns’ stories about the lake.
* Held tours of Saltair with the state archeologist.
This is an excellent example of what can happen when journalists, academics, community groups, and others come together over a single, urgent issue and are relentless in their coverage and focus. Through a solutions lens, they are addressing an essential statewide problem in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without this collaboration.