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Researchers: Don't blame the Great Salt Lake for bad smell

Researchers: Don't blame the Great Salt Lake for bad smell

(Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)

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Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) — An unpleasant smell that regularly drifts off the Great Salt Lake is caused by treated wastewater pumped into a popular bay, not the lake itself, according to Utah experts.

The odor is well known by people who live near the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, but researchers say it's most apparent in one area: Farmington Bay.

"Fifty percent of the water going into Farmington Bay is treated sewage water," said Utah State University researcher Wayne Wurtsbaugh. "So it's not surprising that it smells."

The area about 15 miles north of Salt Lake City gets its characteristic odor when the nutrient-rich wastewater feeds algae blooms that in turn feed bacteria after they die, Wurtsbaugh told the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden.

The rotten-egg odor comes from hydrogen sulfide gas, a byproduct of the process.

A road to a state park on Antelope Island keeps the wastewater from flowing out of the bay, and its shallow depth amplifies the smell as wind moves across the bay, creating waves that bring the gas to the surface, Wurtsbaugh said.

The bay's proximity to people's homes means it doesn't go unnoticed.

Weber State University sociology professor Carla Trentelman said the so-called lake stink was a frequent topic of conversation as she studied human relationships with the Great Salt Lake.

"It didn't matter where on the lake they were — in every interview I conducted, it seems the person felt obligated to comment on the smell," she said. "Even if it was to say, 'we don't really have any problems with the smell of the lake out here.'"

At the north end of the lake, the "funky smell" is gone, replaced by a smell like the ocean, she said.

The salt in the Great Salt Lake's water comes from small amounts of the mineral dissolved in the water of rivers that empty into it. Because there's no outlet for the lake, the water evaporates, making the salt more concentrated. The lake is too salty for fish or other aquatic animals aside from brine shrimp and brine flies the feed on algae.


Information from: Standard-Examiner

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