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Will Great Salt Lake Pumps Be Needed This Spring?

Will Great Salt Lake Pumps Be Needed This Spring?

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John Hollenhorst reportingRemember the gigantic pumps the State of Utah built two decades ago to control the Great Salt Lake? John Hollenhorst reports on whether they could be needed to handle this spring's expected heavy runoff.

Politicans love to talk about leaving a legacy for their grandchildren. They literally did with a huge pumphouse.

Mike Talbot, Utah Div. of Water Resources: "I don't think people even remember it's here."

The $62 million project hasn't been used for nearly a generation. It will likely be another generation before it pumps again. The shrinking Great Salt Lake has left the pumphouse miles from the waters it was built to control.

Mike Talbot/ Utah Div. of Water Resources: "It's showing it's wear and tear, but overall it's great."

Mike Talbot faithfully maintains the pumps. Once a month he turns the shafts, and gives the motors a fresh shot of nitrogen for rust protection. The pumps were built in the mid-80's when the rampaging lake was doing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

For two years the engines pumped a million gallons a minute into west desert evaporation ponds. But Nature was already in turnaround. The lake has been dropping almost ever since.

This drying up of the lake may seem profound, and even a bit bizarre. But it's really not. This happens to the Great Salt Lake about once every 40 years.

Records show a high point about every four decades, the last one in '87, and a low point about 20 years later. That's where we are now. So was it a good investment if the pumps aren't needed for another 20 years?

Mike Talbot: "That's true. But if you happen to reside on the east side of the Great Salt Lake, and your home is up to its eaves in water, then it becomes a different issue."

With a couple million more dollars, Talbot says he could have the pumps up and running in a month. It costs the state just $11-thousand a year to maintain the pumps and keep them operable.

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