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Low Level of Great Salt Lake Poses Problems

Low Level of Great Salt Lake Poses Problems

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ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK, Utah (AP) -- Great Salt Lake is so low that some people aren't using the causeway to get to Antelope Island -- they're just driving, illegally, across what used to be Farmington Bay.

Park Manager Ron Taylor said he hiked up to the top of a peak on the island where "you get an aerial view of Farmington Bay, and it is just gone."

Lowering of the lake's level due to five years of drought has left much of the bay high and dry, he said.

Great Salt Lake is down to 4,195 feet above sea level, 4 feet above its historic low and 9 feet below the average.

The result is problems for tourism, security and the brine shrimp industry.

Taylor said the beaches aren't seeing a lot of use. With the high concentration of salt in the water, people float in the water fine, but they have to walk almost 75 yards across the beach to get to it, he said.

The biggest problem is unwanted visitors.

"We have had problems with OHVs (off-highway vehicles) coming over from the south," he said, either from duck clubs on the mainland shore or from near the Saltair resort.

"They trespass on the island and all of a sudden the animals are being harassed," he said.

Bison and other animals on the island have no reason to leave, even though they could walk away now, "but the concern is we have people coming over and chasing them around and driving them off."

He said it not only is trespassing to drive off-highway vehicles to the island, but it is illegal to drive anywhere but on roads on the island.

It also is illegal to drive on the lake bed.

Meanwhile, the brine shrimp industry began its annual harvest Oct. 1.

The big boats are having trouble getting into and out of the marina on the island, Taylor said. It has been dredged, but is still very shallow.

Don Leonard, president of the Utah Artemia Association, which represents all the brine shrimpers, said the level of the lake is just one of the problems this year.

So far this year shrimpers have taken 1.71 million pounds of brine shrimp eggs from the lake. In record years they've taken as many as 15 million pounds. In 1997 the harvest was shut down after three weeks to prevent overfishing, and during that time the shrimpers took 6 million pounds.

Shrimpers are getting less money for fewer shrimp, too. Leonard said the international market for brine shrimp, used to feed prawns and other seafood, is soft because of the general economic downturn.

Even with dredging, he said, it is "quite marginal" to be operating out of the marina. Once they get out on the lake, shrimp boats are running into sand bars and garbage that used to be safely underwater.

Park Manager Taylor said some shrimpers have given up on the large boats and are using smaller boats to harvest shrimp that float to the shore. More than half of this year's harvest is from shore harvesting.

"So I think it's fair to say it's a challenging year for the industry," Leonard said. "Their costs are up, their revenues are down and their harvests are down."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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