SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Great Salt Lake is now more than four feet higher from when it hit record lows last year, salinity levels are lower in the south arm of the lake and water is spilling over a berm that was raised earlier this year to catch as much water as possible.
“(It’s) a big sigh of relief for the lake,” stated Ben Stireman.
Stireman is a sovereign lands program administrator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. He told ABC4 that the recently raised berm is doing its job to help improve the lake, but more so, Mother Nature is doing her job.
At the beginning of the year, Governor Spencer Cox (R-UT) issued an executive order to raise the berm along the Union Pacific causeway by five feet. By doing so, the north and south arms of the lake were entirely cut off from one another. The goal of this was to collect as much of the spring runoff as possible in the south arm of the lake thus increasing the water levels and decreasing the salinity levels.
Since then, water levels have risen more than four feet, and as the wind blows across the water, small waves now lap across the top of the berm spilling water into the north arm. That’s not all that’s happened. Stireman explained, “Salinity has dropped. It was at a high in November last year of about 185 grams per liter. Now, we’re down to about 140 to 145 grams per liter.”
Why is it important to decrease salinity levels in the south arm?
“Salinity is crucial for the ecosystem,” Stireman stated. “There are many beneficial uses that rely on a healthy equilibrium of salinity which is about 120 to 160 grams per liter in the fall. So, we want to start the season at a lower salinity and then after the progression of evaporation happens, we want to end up at 120 to 160 grams per liter.”
In other words, if the south arm of the lake were to get too salty, brine shrimp, brine flies, migratory birds, and the industries that rely on the lake could see devastating impacts. Brine shrimp and brine flies wouldn’t be able to reproduce, thus creating a chain reaction of decline in other animal populations and human industry opportunities.
Stireman said it’s hard to predict just how much more the lake will rise as runoff continues to make its way into streams and rivers. However, he is hopeful. “I think, with fairly good confidence that we’ll come up at least another two or three feet,” he said.
While the lake’s conditions are improving, Stireman told ABC4 that the state continues its work to find other solutions to help save the lake. He added: “This isn’t a one-size fits all solution, this was one tool that we had that was immediately available to us to help to modify that salinity.”