The Great Salt Lake is more than just another lake in the state of Utah.
It’s where more than 10 million birds representing 338 bird species migrate to Salt Lake City annually from South America, Russia, and Mexico, attracted by the lake’s brine shrimp, a major Utah export that contributes millions annually to the state’s economy.
It is also home to Union Pacific’s Great Salt Lake causeway - a raised rock-filled railroad track that stretches 20 miles across the lake.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the lake has been shrinking, creating an environmental crisis that threatens the birds, the shrimp, and the surrounding community. With less water, the lake is saltier, and the exposed lakebed generates dust storms that impact the community.
Union Pacific recently had the honor of being able to help shore up the drought-stricken lake, at least for the short term, by working with the state and raising the causeway’s berm.
In February, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued an emergency order to raise the causeway’s berm to capture runoff from this season’s heavy snow. To ensure the snow didn’t melt before the berm was built, the project had to be executed quickly and efficiently.
With the tools, resources, and the desire to help, Union Pacific was in a great position to jump in and do the job.
“The state of Utah is incredibly grateful to Union Pacific for the collaborative effort and rapid response in raising the causeway breach to address salinity concerns in the Great Salt Lake. These actions will help stabilize the declining lake, improve the ecosystem and benefit the wildlife and people of Utah,” said Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Union Pacific was happy to lend a hand; along with equipment and material.
“We were eager to help and honored to be given the job. Utah holds a special place in the history of Union Pacific, as the place where the final spike was driven into the ground, connecting the first transcontinental railroad,” said Nathan Anderson, senior director – Public Affairs.
Union Pacific owns a quarry a mile from the berm location where rock, which is used to repair the causeway if it is damaged by water, wind or storm, is mined. The railroad also has equipment on standby to do the job.
Union Pacific donated the material and transported the needed material to the berm. It was a great way to help out the lake and coordinate the project so that it had minimal impact on freight operations.
“The causeway cuts several hundred miles out of other routes by allowing us to cross the Great Salt Lake,” said Travis Hatch, director – Track Maintenance. “It also helps with volume because the Ogden, Utah, hub is the heart of three major rail lines.
“By collaborating with state agencies, we were able to expedite the process and shorten the window to get the work done in a way that benefited everyone,” Hatch added.
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As a result of the work, the berm was raised five feet over its previous level. This will ideally increase the water level in the south arm of the lake and help decrease the salinity.
While raising the berm is a short-term fix to a long-term problem, it is a step in the right direction. Union Pacific’s leadership and participation in the project aligns with its sustainability goals, and strategy to serve and collaborate with partners in communities where it operates.
“Union Pacific is always looking for opportunities to be a good neighbor and partner with public agencies, especially when it comes to ecologically sensitive issues like the Great Salt Lake,” Anderson said.