These images show the dramatic effects of the Great Salt Lake's high water levels in the 1980s. These effects included a great increase in the lake’s area, the opening of the causeway crossing the lake, and the creation of a new evaporation basin west of the lake.
The Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake, with no outlet rivers running to the ocean. Since water leaves the lake only through evaporation, it leaves behind its dissolved minerals, making the lake up to 8 times as salty as seawater.
The lack of outlets also means the lake responds dramatically to change in inflow. Rainy weather beginning in 1982 brought the highest levels in recorded history, peaking in June 1986 and March–April 1987. The lake is shallow for its size—about 70 miles long and 30 miles wide, but only about 40 feet deep. Because the lake basin is so shallowly sloped, extra inflow to the lake makes it rise only slowly, but any rise means a large increase in area. Highways, causeways, and parts of Salt Lake City were flooded or threatened in the 1980s, costing millions of dollars.
By 2016, years of drought and increased water use brought the lake to record low levels. This low level of the lake can increase dust pollution and reduce mineral extraction, shrimp production, waterfowl habitat, and recreational opportunities.
A report by Watershed Sciences and Utah State University says that the lake has persistently declined since the mid-1800s: "consumptive water use has reduced net river inflow to the lake by 39 percent over the past 150 years."
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