Experts monitor new breach in Great Salt Lake causeway

Sunday , December 18, 2016 - 11:59 AM

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Water in the southern portion of the Great Salt Lake is expected to reach historically low levels as officials monitor a fresh break in Union Pacific Railroad’s 21-mile causeway.

The breach, which would allow water to flow under the causeway, was set to open in October, but that move was postponed to Dec. 1 because of wildlife concerns, the Standard-Examiner reported (http://bit.ly/2hx6ZyN ).

Utah’s natural resources department is overseeing Union Pacific’s work.

Before the breach, the north arm of the lake was about 3.5 feet below the south arm’s water level. Officials expect the flow into the north arm to push the water level up by about a foot in the first three months.

The south arm is predicted to approach new historic lows, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Cory Angeroth said. “As we make more discharge measurements, we’ll have a better idea of how long it’s going to take for the arms to get to their final equilibrium,” he said.

Drought and human consumption have helped drop the lake’s water level.

“We’re just using a lot more water,” said John Luft, the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “The number of people has increased. We’re using more water for crops as well as human consumption. It’s kind of obvious that’s the major reason for the lower lake right now.”

The causeway has divided the Great Salt Lake for more than 50 years.

“We’ve gotten to a point where it’s changed the north arm salinity so much, you can’t go back to the way it was without the causeway,” Luft said. “It would change the entire lake — and not for the good.”

Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net

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