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Great Salt Lake North Arm Reaches Record Low

Dec 30, 2015 04:11 PM EST
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The water level in the north arm of Utah's Great Salt Lake has reached a new low, and the south arm is within a foot of a new record, too.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL) reported the lake's water level reached an elevation of 4,191.6 feet above sea level last month - one foot lower than the previous record, according to a news release. New protocols have since been designed to protect the lake's ecological health and economic contributions.

On the other side of the lake, the south arm's water level sits at 4,192.5 feet, one foot higher than its previous historic low of 4,191.35 feet set in 1963. For the first time since the Great Salt Lake causeway breach was built in 1984, water has stopped flowing from the south to north. While the causeway once relieved flooding on the south side, levels are now so low the lake has effectively become two: a hypersaline one to the north and a higher, less-saline one to the south.

"There is a chance the south arm of the Great Salt Lake could reach a historic low in 2016, but it depends on the amount of precipitation we get through the winter and spring months," USGS scientist Cory Angeroth explained in the release. "The condition of the current mountain snowpack is definitely a positive for the lake and hopefully the storms will keep coming."

The south arm is recharged with fresh water from the Bear, Weber and Jordan rivers, in addition to the water discharged from the state's wastewater treatment plants. To restore navigation and water flow between the two arms, the state will construct a new bridge along the causeway. FFSL managers are also cracking down on illegal motorized travel across exposed lakebed, encouraging immediate dredging projects, and will not approve any new mineral leasing around the lake.

"The lake is unique in that it is so big, yet so shallow, and the bed is really flat. If you drop a foot of elevation, that exposes a lot of lakebed," Cory Angeroth, chief hydrologist with the USGS's Utah Water Science Center, added in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune. "One thing you have issues with is dust. As the lake gets smaller, it provides less surface area for evaporation, which helps feed into lake effect that we enjoy in the mountains for skiing and water sources."

The health of the Great Salt Lake is not only vital to the state's economy, but also to the quality of life enjoyed in Utah. 

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