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Little Known Historical Facts of … Utah’s Great Salt Lake

September 29, 2014
  • Facts & Insights
  • History & Area Info

The Great Salt Lake, located on the northern edge of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth largest terminal lake in the world.  Although the size of the lake varies greatly depending on the year, on average it covers approximately 1,700 square miles.  The Great Salt Lake is one of four lakes which is a remnant of the prehistoric pluvial lake, Lake Bonneville, which covered 22,400 square miles – the majority of Utah as well as parts of Idaho and Nevada. 

Although the Great Salt Lake is fed by three major tributaries, the Jordan, Weber and Bear rivers, the Lake has no outlet.  This kind of body of water, known as endorheic, has a very high saline content.  The salt content of the lake varies from 9% to 28%, significantly higher than the ocean which averages 3%. 

The Great Salt Lake contributes significantly to Utah’s economy.  Although both recreation and the harvesting of brine shrimp contribute to the economy, with over 405 billion tons of salt in the lake, mineral extraction has a significant impact on Utah’s commerce.  Sodium chloride from the lake is used in water softeners, salt lick blocks for livestock and ice melt for roadways.  Potassium sulfate is used as a commercial fertilizer, and magnesium-chloride is used in the production of magnesium metal, chlorine gas and as a dust suppressant.  This mineral extraction contributes about $1.1 billion to Utah’s economy yearly.

Although the high mineral content and the fluctuating water levels have deterred significant tourist-related developments, the Great Salt Lake remains one of Utah’s largest tourist attractions.  In addition to salt production and tourism, the farm and ranch industry plays a vital role as well in the state of Utah.