West Desert. This is the largest and driest of the drainage basins. Average annual precipitation is 11 inches and runoff / groundwater flow to the lake is very low, estimated at about 10,000 to 20,000 acre-feet per year, most of which occurs in early spring. In some years, there is no net contribution to the lake from the west desert. This basin contains the Bonneville Salt Flats, which are the remains of a much larger lake system that existed near the end of the Pleistocene.
Bear River. The Bear River rises in the Uinta Mountains and travels a sinuous 500-mile journey in a large arc, and is the largest tributary to the Great Salt Lake. Runoff is primarily from snowmelt in the mountains. The river is highly developed for water storage and hydropower.
Weber River. The Weber and its tributary the Ogden River are two important tributaries feeding the southeastern part of Great Salt Lake. Flow in this river system is highly regulated. The headwaters of the Weber River have the highest precipitation averages in the Great Salt Lake basin (26 inches annually), most of which falls as snow in the winter.
Utah Lake. This lake is a freshwater body located south of Great Salt Lake and is connected to the lake by the Jordan River. Important tributaries include the American Fork and the Provo River.
The shorelands preserve is located on the eastern shore of the lake, north of the Jordan River outlet and south of the Weber River outlet.
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WATER LEVEL VARIATIONS
Great Salt Lake is located on a shallow playa. Consequently, small changes in the water-surface elevation result in relatively large changes in the surface area of the lake. In addition, the lake responds quickly to variations in climate particularly, precipitation and runoff. Historic data on the level of the Great Salt Lake have been collected since 1843. The lake level reached a historic high of about 1283.5 m (4212 ft) in 1873 and again in 1986 and 1987, and a historic low of 1277.5 m (4191 ft) in 1963. The lake is currently at this 1278.5 m level, a manifestation of the current regional drought. The mid 1980s rise of the lake to 1283.6 m caused flooding and widespread damage to the both the built and natural environment. The graph below depicts the long-term hydrograph of Great Salt Lake.
The lake expands into the west desert when its level exceeds an elevation of about 4215 feet, greatly increasing its area. During 1986 and again in 1987, the lake reached an elevation of 4,211.6 feet and had a surface area of about 3,300 square miles. The relation between water-surface elevation and corresponding surface area and volume of the lake is shown on an elevation-area-volume curve, also called a hypsographic curve (from the Greek, hypsos, meaning height).
The hypsographic curve shown below can be used to determine area and total volume of Great Salt Lake (Gilbert and Gunnison Bays) by using the water-surface elevation from the Saltair Boat Harbor USGS gauge located at the south end of Gilbert Bay. The data include diked areas for salt extraction located at the south end of Gilbert Bay.
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Presently this inland sea is the subject of an intensive long-term study being conducted by the state of Utah, and funded entirely by the brine shrimp industry. Researchers have discovered that the Great Salt Lake is far more complex and vulnerable than was previously thought. This lake is of special interest to the exporters of brine shrimp eggs, which are harvested by the billions and shipped to Asia where they are hatched and used as food for prawns. They are obviously trying to protect a lucrative industry for themselves with the added benefit of helping to preserve a unique environment for the rest of the world. The photo below is of a pair of Mallard ducks.
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The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve is not only unique for its physical characteristics, but also for the multitude of flora and fauna it supports. Environments such as this are limited in number, and continuously disappearing from this Earth. It is hoped that, with public support as well as that of local industry, this irreplaceable ecosystem might be preserved for future generations.
The Nature Conservancy-Places We Protect; http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/utah/preserves/
The Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau-Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve; http://www.davisareacvb.com/attractions/gslshorelands.htm
The Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission-GSL Shorelands Preserve; http://www.mitigationcommission.gov/wetlands/wetlands_layton.html
The Great Salt Lake Wetlands/Bear River National Wildlife Refuge Tour-Utah; http://host.asla.org/groups/rrpigroup/ASLA-RestorationEcology-SLC-FieldTrip-2004-lrs.pdf
The Great Salt Lake; http://www.manomet.org/WHSRN/sites/Great%20Salt%20Lake.htm
The High Country News.org-The Great Salt Lake Mystery; http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=11170
Utah News-Protecting Utah's Open Spaces; http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,575041009,00.html
The Great Salt Lake-Haven For Birds; http://www.stoplegacyhighway.org/gsl.htm
The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation-Investing in Preservation and Conservation; http://www.gsecclesfoundation.org/preservation/index.html
Utah Wildlife-The Great Salt Lake Bird Festival; http://www.utah.com/wildlife/greatsaltlake_birdfestival.htm
About Tesoro-Social Responsibility-Salt Lake City Refinery; http://www.tsocorp.com/stellent/groups/public/documents/published/tsi_abu_soc_env__046613.hcsp
The Great Salt Lake-Maps of the Great Salt Lake; http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Shores/9144/Maps/maps.html
The Utah Water Resources Department; http://www.water.utah.gov/
All Photos by Brian Graves
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