South winds of 29 to 36 mph have forced officials to shut down the Great Salt Lake pumps since Saturday.
The winds have pushed lake water away from the inlet canal, reducing the flow enough that operators turned off the pumps to avoid damaging them."The water is so shallow at the intake on the north side of the (outhern Pacific railroad) trestle that the water just blows away to the north," said Karen Nichols, a project engineer for Eckhoff, Watson & Preator Engineering. "That could starve the pumps."
Her boss, David Eckhoff, said Monday that water-level sensing equipment is being installed to automatically shut down the pumps if the level gets too low.
The shutdown is not detrimental to the pumping project's efficiency, a plant operator said, since the pumps have to be turned off periodically for routine maintenance.
"We've got them down performing general maintenance. It's a good time to do that," said station supervisor Mac Sine. "We're taking advantage of this opportunity."
The inlet canal is to be deepened and extended into the Great Salt Lake starting in mid-June, said state Department of Natural Resources Director Dee Hansen.
The inlet canal is 13 to 14 feet deep near the pump station, he said, but the lake is only 2 to 3 feet deep at the canal's mouth, even less when a south wind blows.
A barge will start dredging the canal outward so that lake water will spill into it and flow toward the station. The pumps will be turned off for the first couple of weeks because silt churned up by the dredge could damage the pumps. The delay will allow the silt to settle, Hansen said.
He estimated it will take three months to dredge a 90-foot canal 9,000 feet into the lake's northern arm. That should allow the state to keep pumping into the fall, when the lake level is expected to drop to about 4,207 feet above mean sea level. The lake's level is now 4,209.10 feet.
The bulk of the dredging costs will be paid by AMAX Magnesium Corp., which depends on water pumped to the West Desert for its new solar evaporation ponds near Knolls.
Winds gusted Monday to 53 mph in Milford, 48 in Cedar City, 41 in Salt Lake City, 35 in Dugway, 32 in Ogden and 31 in Brigham City, said National Weather Service meteorologist William Alder.
The wind whipped up so much dust that the Utah Highway Patrol closed Utah 56, which runs between Cedar City and Tonopah, Nev., for several hours. A gust also blew out a window at a muffler shop in Cedar City, a UHP dispatcher said.
Alder said a weather blockage in the Western Hemisphere is producing the winds. High pressure is dominant over the central states with lows on both coasts, creating the strong southerly flow.
The pattern should persist the next few days, with more steady winds and temperatures dipping only a few degrees.