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Great Salt Lake Causeway Breach Set For December

A long-awaited breach in the Great Salt Lake Causeway could begin as soon as next week.

State regulators have signed off on plans to punch a hole in the 20-mile causeway between Promontory Point and the western shore of the Great Salt Lake. The move, which has been years in coming, will allow water and salt to flow freely once again.

“It’s a condition we could have expected to occur had the culverts not been closed,” says Laura Ault, who’s been managing the causeway conundrum for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Credit Utah Division of Forestry Fire State Lands
Utah Division of Forestry Fire State Lands
A diagram of Great Salt Lake water flow.

She says culverts used to connect the lake’s north and south arms, but they've been clogged. And she adds that the Union Pacific Railroad will punch a hole in the causeway so lake water can flow under a new bridge.

Ault says: “There will definitely be impacts.”

The lake’s south arm is expected to drop – potentially to historic lows. And its saltiness will increase. But Ault says concern about harming brine shrimp is diminished.

“If we were to breach in the October-November time range, it could impact their life cycle,” she says, “and there was a concern if the brine shrimp weren’t reproducing well, there wouldn’t be potentially be enough for the birds.”

Curiosity about low lake levels is ongoing. One study is looking at its effect on air quality. Another focuses on lake-effect snowfall.

The video below is from a Union Pacific Rail Road web page on the causeway breach.

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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