Water now spills over the emergency dam berm in the Great Salt Lake

The level has risen so much that the water is once again reaching the northern arm of the lake.

(Fox 13 News) The level of the Great Salt Lake has risen so high that the water is once again reaching the north arm of the lake.

Promontory, Utah • It’s a sight that makes railroad workers and state water officials smile.

Water spills over an emergency berm in the Union Pacific Railroad’s causeway across the Great Salt Lake. This means that the lake level has risen to such an extent that the water is once again reaching the north arm of the lake.

“When we started this project, I guess no one was expecting this year’s snow cover, so we’re incredibly excited,” Ben Stireman, the sovereign land manager for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands, said in an interview with FOX 13 news at the berm on Tuesday.

The dam berm was raised 4 feet earlier this year to protect the South Arm of the Great Salt Lake from ecological collapse. When the lake reached an all-time low last year, the salinity began to rise.

“Ecological collapse is a function of salinity,” Stireman said.

Governor Spencer Cox issued an executive order raising the berm. It temporarily cut off the north arm of the lake to support the south arm, where animals and humans would be most affected.

“This area where the North Arm and the South Arm connect? There was an opportunity to raise the berm and completely block south-north and vice-versa currents,” Stireman said, pointing to the berm.

The two arms of the lake are divided by the Union Pacific Railroad causeway. They are visually unmistakable. The north arm is pink in color due to microorganisms living in the saltier area. The south arm is blue-green.

When the governor issued his order, Union Pacific did the work to raise the berm at no cost to taxpayers, Stireman said. Railway workers have also noticed the lake’s dramatic decline in recent years.

“Like everyone else, we are concerned that the lake … is in dire need,” said Union Pacific Railroad manager Michael Stanton.

Thanks to Utah’s record snowfall this year, the Great Salt Flats have risen about four feet. It’s still six feet below what’s considered a healthy minimum. As more snow melts, it’s possible the lake will rise a few more feet this year. The water flowing over the top of the berm is also helping the north arm of the Great Salt Lake again, but state officials have no plans to lower the berm for the time being.

“As you can see from the way the water overflows, there’s no need to lower the berm height if it ends up being the same height,” Stireman said. “But if we have a difference in elevation between the south and north arms at the end of the runoff season, we’ll likely dump water into the north arm.”

Stanton, who accompanied FOX 13 News to the dam on Tuesday, said the railroad workers are ready to do whatever is necessary to help the lake.

“It makes you feel good,” he said. “It feels good when you know that we have achieved something for our neighbors. We are neighbours. Anything we can do to help.”

This article is published by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to educate people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to help make a difference before it’s too late. Read all of our stories below greatsaltlakenews.org.

Justin Scaccy

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