Following its previous depth assessment of 5 feet in 2014, Utah’s Great Salt Lake reaches an all-time low in its northern arm, decreasing by 1 foot in 2016. This is due to a variety of factors, and it seems that this decrease will not stop next year as well, continuing its plummet that started last year.
The Great Salt Lake is extremely important to both the environment as well as the industry of Utah. Because of this, more severe regulations have been made by the state’s officials, blocking any illegal motorized transport on the exposed lakebed. Dredging operations have also gained a massive boost in speed regarding approvals in order to somewhat circumvent this unfortunate phenomenon.
This decrease is thought by hydrologists and researchers to stem from an event that occurred back in 1984 when the Union Pacific Railroad Causeway breach started to be used as a flood control mechanism. This effectively stopped water from flowing freely between the southern and northern regions of the lake.
Utah’s drought from recent months has also greatly impeded the lake’s return to normal levels. The Great Salt Lake Marina has been swamped in mud and sludge, making it unable to function properly. Odds are that other marinas, like the one on Antelope Island, will remain unusable by the public for the following years as well, because the docks have been sinking into the muddy landscape.
The impact on air quality will be severe as well, especially if the southern arm of the lake will reach low levels too. If snowpacks and precipitations will not increase in the following months of winter and spring, the effects will be devastating.
Water erosion has also affected the railroad causeway that began its construction back in Fall. The bridge that was constructed is now suffering from eroded pillars that may eventually lead to a collapse. This problem came because of the switch from the original plan of closing off two rock-filled culverts, with water salt levels urging the construction of the 150-foot bridge.
In regards to its environmental impact, the Great Salt Lake houses over 5 million migratory birds that use the Pacific Flyway each year, being the Great Basin hub of the North American region. The industry part is linked to 8 major salt extracting companies that benefit from the lake’s salt levels, which are 5 times more than the ocean’s.
Because of the causeway breach, fresh water no longer flows from the southern region into the northern one, leading to an increase in salt concentration. The remaining water simply evaporates due to the recent drought, causing islands to not be classified as islands anymore and lakebed exposure.
But the fact that Utah’s Great Salt Lake reaches an all-time low in its northern arm is hoped to be quelled once the railroad gets completed, as well as dredging starts to become more widespread. With the complete construction of the railroad, the southern arm will diminish while the northern one will get filled up. True, this will lead to an equalization between the two, but if the climate will remain the same, this problem will arise once again in the near future for both arms, not just the northern one.