Document Type


Publication Date

January 1985


Introduction: Over the last few years, the rising level of the Great Salt Lake has changed Utah. It has inundated vast waterfowl feeding areas, crippled the salt industry, required raising transcontinental freeways and railroads, threatened metropolitan waste treatment plants, caused a major electrical outage, and damaged many properties. If nothing is done, approximately $3.6 billion of damages in 1985 dollars can be expected by 2050 (James et al, 1985, p.4). This threat led the State Legislature to set aside $100 million (an amount approximating the damages that had then occurred) in January 1985 to identify, select, and implement remedial measures. The rise has slowed. However, the lake entered February 1986 at its highest level since 1877, and a large storm of tripical origins brought a record one-month rise, tying the high of the previous spring at 4209.95, with heavy snowpacks in the mountains and at least three months of precipitation left before the normal date of the annual peak. Nevertheless, the legislature is diverting some of the funds to other purposes. As shown in Figure 2, the rise has greatly enlarged the surface area of a shallow water body. Table 1 shows how the historic variation has increased the lake surface area from 587,000 to 1,556,0000 acres, a range that varies normal annual evaporation from 1,470,000 to 4,800,000 acre feet. The lake will rise as long as inflow exceed actual evaporation. Total inflows were 5,300,000 acre feet in 1983, 6,200,000 acre feet in 1984, and 3,800,000 acre feet in 1985. The rise continued in 1985 because of abnormally low evapoartion.