Scientists warn of ecological collapse if Utah's Great Salt Lake keeps shrinking : Short Wave Dotted across the Great Basin of the American West are salty, smelly lakes. The largest of these, by far, is the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

But a recent report found that water diversions for farming, climate change and population growth could mean the lake essentially disappears within five years. Less water going in means higher concentrations of salt and minerals, which threatens the crucial ecological role saline lakes play across the West, as well as the health of the people who live nearby.

On today's episode, Kirk takes Short Wave co-host Aaron Scott on an audio field trip to the endangered Great Salt Lake, and explains why losing the lake could be devastating for everyone from brine flies to the humans that live next door.

What we lose if the Great Salt Lake dries up

What we lose if the Great Salt Lake dries up

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Boat docks sit on dry cracked earth at the Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island Marina. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Boat docks sit on dry cracked earth at the Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island Marina.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dotted across the Great Basin of the American West are salty, smelly lakes. The largest of these, by far, is the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

"People have been saying that they miss the lake stink because it just makes them feel like home, and it's just not here anymore," says Carly Biedul, a biologist at the Great Salt Lake Institute.

She showed NPR correspondent Kirk Siegler just how much the lake has shrunk, due to water diversions for farming, climate change and population growth. A recent report found that the lake could essentially disappear within five years. As a key stopover for migrating birds, the lake's loss could undermine whole ecosystems.

These salty lakes occur in so-called endorheic basins—places where there is no outlet for the water to flow out to sea. In Utah, melting snow from the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City flows into rivers and then into the lake. Much of it evaporates during the summer, maintaining water levels in a delicate balance. Less water going in means higher concentrations of salt and minerals, which threatens the crucial ecological role saline lakes play across the West, as well as the health of the people who live nearby.

On today's episode, Kirk takes Short Wave co-host Aaron Scott on an audio field trip to the endangered Great Salt Lake, and explains why losing the lake could be devastating for everyone, from brine flies to the humans that live next door.

This episode was produced by Margaret Cirino and Liz Metzger, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Anil Oza. Jay Czys was the audio engineer.