The Great Salt Lake has dropped to more than an inch below the former "cutoff" point, but because of a new agreement with the Air Force, the West Desert Pumping Project continues working.
Meanwhile, much of the Antelope Island causeway has resurfaced, and it's in surprisingly good condition. This has raised hopes that the road to Antelope Island State Park could be reopened in 1990 or 1991.U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists measured the lake at 4206.6 feet above sea level Tuesday. Gov. Norm Bangerter once told the Air Force that he would halt the pumping project when the lake went below 4206.7 - the level it reached at the Oct. 15 measurement.
Since then, state officials and members of the Utah congressional delegation pressured the Air Force to allow the project to continue. According to state officials, the continued pumping not only lowers the lake further, adding a margin of safety, but it helps the AMAX magnesium extraction company, which uses water pumped to the west.
The lower the lake is, the easier it will be to rehabilitate fresh water marshes wiped out by salty floods.
Also, they say, the lower the lake is, the better the chance to eventually restore the causeway to Antelope Island State Park. If that happens, it will reopen one of Utah's most popular parks.
Jay Christianson, northern regional manager for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, said Tuesday that experts are monitoring the lake's level , to see how much it drops. "We won't know the integrity of the causeway until the winter," he said.
Storms and ice flows could further damage the roadway, which was battered by the floods. Finally, as the water rose, it ended up below the surface, where the environment was relatively calm.
On March 30, 1987, the historic high point, the lake was 5 feet , 3 inches higher than it is today.
"We're doing an analysis now to see what it would cost us to re-establish it (the causeway) at different levels of elevation," Christianson said. Engineering experts in the Utah Department of Transportation are helping, he said.
Christianson said the causeway looks much better than expected. However, a 90-foot bridge was washed out.
Mitch Larsson, superintendent of the island park, said, "The road is exposed out 2.5 miles now, and the asphalt has been exposed. But it seems that the remainder, 4.5 miles, has been damaged much more severely."
However, when the Legislature considered building a dike along the causeway, the road bed was tested. "The stability of the base that's there is in good condition, according to their tests," he said.
"We're hoping that the road can be repaired. A lot of it hinges on funding, and that, of course, is a very critical thing right now," Larsson said.
The closure of the causeway hurt the local economy, he said. Before the lake flooded the road, 500,000 visitors drove to the island per year.
With recent interest in the lake's history, geology, archaeology and wildlife, he estimated, probably 1 million people will visit yearly once it is reopened.
"Boaters on the lake right now should be warned that (parts of) the south causeway and the north causeway are just barely under the surface of the water," he said. They should take precautions to avoid wrecking their craft on the rocks.
Isolated shallow spots and rocks are nearing the surface as the lake drops.
Lee Case of the USGS said the lake declined 3 inches in October. "The average change in lake level during October is a decline of a little less than an inch," he said.