Dredging to Begin at Great Salt Lake

Dredging to Begin at Great Salt Lake

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John Hollenhorst reportingThe state plans to start a dredging operation Monday at Salt Air on the Great Salt Lake.

They're trying to keep the marina in full operation with the lake now at its lowest levels in decades.

Remember when Antelope Island was an island?

It isn't any more. Now it's Anetelope Peninsula, connected to the mainland by thousands of acres of mudflats.

Everywhere you look there's mud. The Great Salt Lake has shrunk at least 25 percent in recent years, exposing more than 400 square miles of old lake boottom.

Tourists are still coming.

If they want to dip their feet in the salt water, they hike hundeds of yards across the mud. Or, they just wade in at the bottom of a long boat ramp at Saltair marina.

Kathy Monteith/Rhode Island tourist: "There's much less of the lake than there used to be. But it's really magnificent scenery."

One of the lake's most magnificent sights is now fully visible. In the remote northwestern part of the lake, the huge artwork called the Spiral Jetty has emerged from the water. Encrusted with salt crystals, it's more striking now than when it was built three decades ago by sculptor Robert Smithson.

At the Saltair marina, there's still an average depth of eight feet. But scuba diver Dave Shearer has seen lots of underwater silt piling up.

"Some of the boats are starting to get trapped here," he says. "Some of the boats with deep-draft keels. But the majority of the boats can still get out okay."

But the entry and exit channel for boats is only about five feet deep. That's why a dredging rig will swing into action Monday to deepen the mouth of the harbor. It's a temporary solution at best.

Bob Rosell/Boating ranger: "The best solution is a lot of rain and a lot of runoff."

Marina managers believe boaters will be fine for the next year or two. But, if the lake just keeps dropping, all bets are off. And it could go quite a bit lower.

Forty years ago, it bottomed out almost five feet lower than it is today.

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