UTAH

Great Salt Lake levels still up from last year, north arm still near record lows

Sep 19, 2023, 9:05 AM | Updated: Sep 20, 2023, 11:35 am

The railroad causeway is breached on the Great Salt Lake on Wednesday. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, D...

The railroad causeway is breached on the Great Salt Lake on Wednesday. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Toxic dust from the Great Salt Lake could cost taxpayers millions

 

SALT LAKE CITY— The Great Salt Lake got an incredible boost from the record water year from fall 2022 to spring 2023. The south arm of the lake went up five and a half feet after hitting an all-time record low in fall 2022.

Deputy Director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Ben Stireman told KSL NewsRadio it has since dropped by 1.8 feet, which is still much higher than the previous record low.

However, the same can’t be said for the north arm of the lake, which is only six inches higher than its record low levels. 

The lake is divided by the Union Pacific Causeway that runs east and west from Promontory Point. The south arm runs parallel from about Ogden to Salt Lake City and Tooele. The north arm only encompasses the far northwest portion of the lake in the remote Utah desert.

The north arm has very little fresh water inflows, meaning most fluctuations come when water travels through the Causeway.

Stireman said while Bear River Bay is north of the Causeway, it’s considered part of the South arm because of it’s major freshwater inflows can be sent right through the berm on the Causeway.

Reasons to build up the south arm

Stireman said they are focused on building up the South arm for a few reasons. The biggest being the north arm which is is so salty it doesn’t support the same ecosystem the south arm does.

“Microbialites, that help support our brine flies and brine shrimp, they’re all primarily located in the south arm,” Stireman said.

The south arm also borders most of the Wasatch Front’s population, so any concerns with toxic lakebed dust being blown around come from there. Officials pinpoint Farmington and Bear River Bays as two of the biggest dust spots.

Additionally, the salt in the north arm created a natural crust or barrier to the toxic lakebed in that section of the lake, something Farmington and Bear River Bay have much less of since they are fed by freshwater rivers.

Stireman said when the big winter started pouring freshwater into Great Salt Lake, they wanted to first make sure they reduced salinity in the south arm, which they did. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox ordered officials to open the berm on the Causeway in early 2023, which played a role in this.

Looking forward

According to Stireman, the focus remains on conservation with winter just around the corner. Weather experts predict another strong water year going into 2024, which is welcome news to managers of Great Salt Lake, who say the lake is still far from where it needs to be.

Coming out of the big winter, officials said the lake still needed about five feet to reach what are considered healthy levels. After summer evaporation, that need has increased to between six and seven feet.

For now, officials are still looking for every solution they can to save the lake. “It’s all hands on deck,” Stireman said.

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Great Salt Lake levels still up from last year, north arm still near record lows