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'It was critical': Berm raised to help save the Great Salt Lake

GSL berm operation
Posted at 3:45 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 19:29:00-04

LAKESIDE, Utah — Crews have completed efforts to raise a berm by four feet in an "emergency surgery" effort to balance the salinity of the shrinking Great Salt Lake.

"It was critical," Eric Dixon, the project manager for Utah's Division of Water Resources, told FOX 13 News on Friday.

The Union Pacific Causeway separates the saltier north arm from the less salty south arm of the lake. It's why you can see two distinctive colors: the pink is the north side and the blue is the south side. The causeway was built in 1902. In 2016, the state breached it to improve water flows.

But as the Great Salt Lake has dropped to historic lows, less water has started to increase the salinity which is causing problems for the ecosystem. Dixon said too much salt was being pushed into the south end of the Great Salt Lake. Brine shrimp can't reproduce and it means less food for birds and other wildlife.

"We're trying to keep the ecosystem functioning as sustainably as we can as we’re seeing these historic low lake levels," said Laura Vernon, the Great Salt Lake coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Resources.

The decision was made to raise a berm in the causeway by four feet to restore salinity levels.

"As we're seeing less fresh water inflows into Great Salt Lake, we’re seeing increased salinity levels," said Vernon. "We're excited that we have an adaptive tool that will allow us to manipulate the salinity or try and minimize the impacts to the brine shrimp population."

Video provided to FOX 13 News by the division shows construction equipment pulling rocks out of the water to change the levels. Dixon said preliminary data shows it appears to be working.

"With the drought continuing, we just need to do all we can to keep the salinity levels where they’re manageable," he said.

Lynn de Freitas of the environmental group Friends of Great Salt Lake called the effort "timely and important."

"We know... that based on the water issues Great Salt Lake is encountering currently with the decline and the increased salinity that is life threatening, there are a number of integrated measures that need to be employed in order to address the needs of the lake," she said.

Great Salt Lake dropped to a new historic low earlier this year as a result of Utah's ongoing mega-drought, water diversion and a changing climate. It presents an ecological disaster for the state with toxic air, reduced snowpack and impacts to health, wildlife and the economy.

Vernon said with a lack of water coming into the lake, it is a reminder of how conservation can help with reversing the damage being done.

"I think we all need to be mindful about how we use water," she said. "We’re one of the driest states in the nation."

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at