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Railroad Repairs Will Cut Water Flow in the Great Salt Lake

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Separated by the Union Pacific railroad causeway, the north and south arms of the Great Salt Lake differ in salinity and biology.

  The Union Pacific Railroad is planning to start repair work on its causeway across the Great Salt Lake.  But it means closing off the culverts that allow water to pass between the north and south arms of the lake. 

The causeway was built in the 1950’s, cutting off much of the natural flow between the two arms of the lake.  As a result, the north arm is much saltier and about a foot lower in elevation than the south arm.

The culverts under the causeway have been sinking into the lake bed and creating a safety issue for the trains passing above.  So the Army Corps of Engineers has issued an emergency permit to allow closing the culverts.  Union Pacific officials have proposed a permanent solution, a 180-foot  bridge near the middle of the lake to allow water to pass through.  Jason Gipson, who heads the Corps’ regulatory branch in Utah, says the railroad will have to provide detailed studies of the water flow to get a permit for the bridge.

“What we’re asking," Gipson tells KUER, "and have been asking, the railroad to do is show us what the effects of closing the two culverts and building that bridge are.  Ideally, that bridge replicates the flows between the two arms of the lake as closely as possible.”

The railroad also needs a permit from the Utah Division of Water Quality to go ahead with the work, but division director Walt Baker says that could be issued in a matter of days.

Changes in the water flow could affect the biology of the lake, especially for brine shrimp.  They support a large population of migratory birds and a multi-million dollar industry harvesting brine shrimp eggs.

A  30-day public comment period on the bridge proposal begins on Friday.

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