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Ecology Prompts Delay Of Causeway Breach

Union Pacific Railroad
From a Utah DWQ status report
Plans to build a new bridge on the causeway have been in the works for years, but now state regulators, bird enthusiasts and brine shrimpers are pleased the old causeway won't be breached until December. The move protects the environment.

Union Pacific Railroad is delaying plans to breach a causeway that separates the north and south arms of the Great Salt Lake.

The delay comes at a good time for wildlife, because brine shrimp are at a critical life stage and so are migrating birds, like millions of eared grebes.

About half of the world’s eared grebes hang out on the Great Salt Lake in the fall. And they rely on brine shrimp to regain their strength for the journey south. Building a new bridge on the causeway now threatens that important food source by throwing the lake’s salt balance out of whack.

“The lake is so unique; it’ so spectacular,” says Brian Cottam, director of the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands, which helped negotiate the delay for a project that’s been in the works for years.

“It’s extremely complex, just the ecosystem of the lake. But when you throw in the human element, the industries, the regulatory aspects – those are the interests we try to balance here.”

Low water levels on the lake are also a factor, because the lake’s south arm is expected to become saltier and lower once the new causeway allows water to flow freely between the two sides.

The brine shrimp industry and the state have pledged to pick up the railroad’s costs for delaying the breach until December.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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