Union Pacific Works to Shore Up Great Salt Lake

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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Photos courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources

The Great Salt Lake, which is home to 338 bird species, is also home to Union Pacific's Great Salt Lake causeway, a 20-mile-long raised rock-filled railroad track.

The lake has been diminishing in recent years, causing an environmental crisis that threatens birds, shrimp, and the surrounding community. The lake is saltier because there is less water in it, and the exposed lakebed causes dust storms that affect the community, according to a release.

Union Pacific recently finished work to help shore up the drought-stricken lake, at least temporarily, by collaborating with the state and raising the berm of the causeway. 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed an emergency order in February to elevate the causeway’s berm in order to catch runoff from this season’s significant snow. The project had to be completed in a timely manner to avoid the snow melting before the berm was erected, Union Pacific said. 

“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, Union Pacific’s senior director – Public Affairs.

Union Pacific owns a quarry about a mile from the berm site where rock is mined for use in repairing the causeway if it is destroyed by water, wind, or storm. The railroad also has equipment ready to go for the operation, a release said. 

“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 Joe Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Union Pacific donated the material and hauled it to the embankment. The strategy assisted with the lake concerns while also coordinating the project so that it had minimal impact on freight operations, according to a release.

“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.