Dec 212011
 

More than two years ago I posted the first of what was supposed to be a multi-part series on on how to use engineering to make Utah a very different place. Part two took a while to come together. I had maps, geological data, lots of calculations and even CAD models… all of which got lost in a computer crash.

Gah.

To sum up part one: the Great Salt Lake is a great big stinky *nothing* in economic terms. It’s too shallow for boating, too salty for anything living except brine shrimp and bacteria. Just about the only use for it is salt recovery.

So my idea, which I’ll here present as “art” rather than “engineering” (due to the lack of math), is to turn the dead Great Salt Lake into a living inland sea.

Stage one would require getting rid of the Lake as it currently exists. To do this, it would have to be largely pumped out. This is not the problem it might seem. In the 1980’s, rains were more common… common enough that the lake was growing, and parts of Salt Lake City were under water. To deal with this, a  series of high capacity pumps were installed. The three West Desert pumps have the capacity to send 1.5 million gallons per minute from the lake out into the desert, where it can then evaporate. The water volume of the lake is about 19 cubic kilometers (5,019,268,994,840 gallons). The existing pumps could move this volume of water in  about 6.4 years.

The time required to pump out the lake would be reduced further by the simple expedient of diverting the rivers that feed it. Evaporation alone would go far towards lowering water levels in a hurry. However, in this case, it’s important to let the rivers keep running into the lake.

My suggestion would be to increase the pumping capacity as much as possible… and to use very rugged pumps. Because in my plan, they’d be pumping substantially more than  just salt water. Instead, they’d pump mud.

As the project gets underway, bulldozers, excavators and other earth moving equipment would begin scraping up the muck that forms the bottom of the lake and moving it to the pumps. The pumps would suck up the sludge and send it out into the western desert. The current West Desert pumps send water only a short distance, to the Newfoundland Evaporation Basin. I would send the sludge further… perhaps to Dugway proving ground, perhaps further west (the desert near Nevada would seem an obvious place). In any event, during summer, the sludge would quickly dry out.

One of the bits of data I lost was just how deep the sludge goes before it hits bedrock. I’ve looked for it again, but damned if I can find it. So… assume we want to new lake to average a depth of 33 meters/100 feet. With a surface area of around 4400 square kilometers, this is a total volume of water, sludge and rock to be removed of 145,200,000,000 cubic meters. Relying purely on the exiting pumps, capable of moving 1.5 million gallons (5678 cubic meters) per minute, getting rid of this volume would take 48 years. This is excessive. To deal with this, I’d increase the scale of the pumping operation by a factor of ten, allowing the lake – the water, the sludge and a good chunk of the bedrock – to be moved out into the desert in little more than one Presidential administration.

At the end of that time, what do we have? A giant gaping hole in the ground.  Water flows into the hole through three main rivers, the Bear, Jordan and Weber. Flow rates average 68 cubic meters/second, 15 cubic meters/second and 10 cubic meters/second, respectively, for a total of 93 cubic meters per second. To refill the lake using jsut the river water would take something like 18,000 years (not counting losses due to evaporation). Event hinking long term, this is nuts. What to do??

Well… once the lake is emptied out, there is that giant bank of pumps, just sitting there looking stupid and useless. The solution: move the pumps. While a detailed engineering study would be needed to work out the best locations, my preliminary suggestion would be to move them to San Francisco bay, near Vallejo, California. Build  a salt water pipeline from the bay to the lake, a distance of about 710 miles. Use the pumps – along with, admittedly, a great many more – to pump ocean water up over the Sierras, past Reno, past Winnemucca and Elko, past West Wendover and into the new and improved Great Salt Lake. If you maintain the same flow in ans you originally had flow out… you can refill the lake with ocean water in less than seven years.

At that point, you wind up with a sizable inland sea, filled with ocean water, ready to be stocked with ocean life. Stock it with species that are currently being fished to extinction. Stock it with species that’ll bring sport fisherman. Stock it with dolphins and small whales.

Over time, the “ocean” water quality will decline. Due to remnant salt from the bottom and the inflow of river water and human pollutants, it’s probable that the water will get nasty if the local ecosystem cannot filter it out and make use of the pullutants. So, probably every few decades the West Desert pumps will need to fire up and either run the water through a filtration/desalination system… or just out into the desert to evaporate. The pipeline from the ocean can be used to top off the lake.

Of course, at the end of this you still have a giant pipeline from the Pacific tot he Great Salt Lake. Most of the time this pipeline would not need to add much to the Great Salt Lake, apart from a relative trickle to account for evaporation (somewhere on the order of a hundred cubic meters/second). But why let it sit otherwise unused? Several ideas immediately present themselves.

Anyone who has driven I-80 from Salt Lake to San Fran knows that most of Nevada is *boring.* Well, once the Great Salt Lake project has proven itself… why not do it again? New sizable ocean water lakes across norther Nevada could have substantial appeal. Nevada casinos that are basically oceanside could make a *vast* amount of money.

Additionally: just spray water out into the desert. Let it evaporate. It will leave a layer of salt, of course; this salt will need to be deposited somewhere where it will do no harm, or where it can be economically harvested. The water that evaporates away? It will help to form clouds and rain. Properly directed, this can aid in times of drought, or change larger climate patterns.

What would all this cost? Well… let’s just  say “a lot.” For starters, the power required to run the ocean water pumps – and there would have to be a lot of them, to move a vast volume of water over a series of mountains and through deserts, to a target more than 4,000 feet above sea level – would be at least 125 megawatts (according to the calculator HERE). To be conservative, though, assume that at least one gigawatt would be needed. Where in the hell is all that power going to come from?

The obvious answer: a few nuclear power plants. One 500 megawatt plant in San Francisco bay; one 250 megawatt plant near Reno; one 250 megawatt plant near or in the Great Salt Lake would seem to do the job. Cooling water, of course, would not be a problem.

Additionally, the pipeline itself would provide the basis for a fair amount of power. Assuming it’s 710 miles/ 1140 km long and ten meters in diameter (that’s a handwavy guess), the cross-sectional area  as seen from above is 11,400,000 square meters.  Cover that with solar cells.  Assume the cells have an efficiency of 20%, and due to the day/night cycle they receive an average of 500 watts per square meter, the total electrical power generated would be 1.14 gigawatts… enough to run the system.

Once the lake is full, all that electrical power would be available for other uses.

Still, the startup costs for a project like this would be vast, as would be the manpower requirements. While I’m pretty much an anti-hugenormous government sorta guy. this sort of project is pretty much possible only as a hugenormous government project. Something like the FDR-era Works Projects Agency would be needed. While a project like this, if successful, would pay for itself over time, the startup costs would be vast. How to pay for something that would probably cost hundreds of billions of dollars per year?

Hmmm.

Well, let me think. The FedGuv currently spends more than a *trillion* dollars per year on various forms of welfare. And we have a vast number of unemployed people, many of whom are drawing unemployment income and other welfare payments while *not* working. A clear part of the solution: link welfare payments to work on the Great Salt Lake project. In other words… get rid of welfare as such, and replace it with actual employment. This project, as I’ve laid it out here, would take t least a decade and a half, and realistically probably at least twenty or thirty years. That’s an entire career’s worth of job security for someone who might otherwise draw welfare instead… all while *not* adding to the deficit or putting other businesses out of business due to government competition (no private companies, so far as I’m aware, are planning on massive oceanwater pipelines from the Pacific to Utah). It would provide a kickstart to the decaying American steel industry due to the need for pipeline and pumps; for the nuclear and solar power industries; for tourism in California, Nevada and Utah; for farming in Nevada and points downwind; for the fishing industry, for the ability to fish inland rather than out at sea; for environmentalists, who get to see endangered ocean life installed inland, reducing the pressure to fish them at sea; and for the vast army of people who get paid to *work* rather than get paid to *not* *work,* thus instilling a work ethic into ’em.

Further down the line, the pipeline could be continued east into the midwest. Use the vast electrical power from the pipeline PV arrays to run desalination systems; use the desalinated water directly for irrigation or driving water, or let it filter down to aquifers that are currently being drained. in times of drought, let it evaporate into clouds, or refill rivers and reservoirs.

 Posted by at 11:34 am
  • Disposable username

    It reminds me of the plan devised in the 1960s to put locks across the Gibraltar straits and empty out a bit of the Mediterranean, adding thousands of miles of farmland and coastlines to Middle Earth.

    • Anonymous

      “Atlantropa,” as memory serves. By damming up Gibraltar, the Dardanelles and both sides of Sicily, the western half of the Med could be lowered by 300+ feet; the eastern portion by 600+ feet. There is a lot to recommend it, but it’s not going to happen until the whole Med is owned by one all-powerful political entity. And even then, one well placed nuke could send a wave of water the like of which history has never seen sweeping in.

  • Michael Scott

    And interesting idea, but of course:

    1.) The Greenies would just shit themselves if this was ever proposed. They have this fetish about all things natural in spite of the fact that nature is most often one evil bitch. This being decidedly unnatural they would quickly tie up any proposal such as this in knots that would probably take the better part of a century to untie.

    2.) Given a $15T federal budget (100% of annual GDP and growing), large scale projects such at this just don’t seem to be on the horizon anytime soon, in fact perhaps not in our lifetimes. Also, don’t look for anything else really cool like anyone from the U.S. landing on Mars anytime soon.

  • K

    If Utah were a blue state with lots of presidential electorial votes, you could probably get Obama on board for the 100 billion or so to get this down. So your first step would be to start a public employee union there.

    Or, you could do this: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100105170942.htm

    • Murgatroyd

      Obama would want you to move the mud by high-speed rail.

  • Joe

    I am going to make a suggestion based on watching the local city let it’s water reservoir silt in and currently has no clue as to how to fix it except to hope the Army corp can get the money to dredge it.

    Design this project as an continual project, figure out how much water is going to evaporate in the final form, maybe double it for for margin during operation and to get the work done faster in construction. Calculate how much dirt need to be removed to keep ahead of that while the lake is filling. See if you can find a purpose for using that much dirt some place, per year. Although 710 mile pipeline is a big start up cost if you layout the project with an eye to what will be the maintance requirements you will have a project that is on a path to last for many generations.

  • Murgatroyd

    What you’re describing is California’s Salton Sea. Trouble is, that started out with fresh water, and over the past century the salinity has increased and the buildup of toxic contaminants (notably selenium) has made the water quality rather questionable. Starting with salt water rather than fresh is just asking for trouble.

    The People’s Republic of San Francisco would never allow Gaia to be violated in the way that you propose. Might I suggest an alternative design? Keep your sludge pipes, but import your water from the Snake River: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SnakeRiverNicerMap.jpg … Only one other state would be involved. And for moving the water from the Snake River to the Great Salt Lake … dig a ditch. A big ditch. According to Wikipedia, American Falls is at an elevation of 4,400 feet, the Great Salt Lake’s current elevation is 4,200 feet. You won’t need all those those eeevil nuclear plants to provide power for pumps, so that’s one fewer regulatory hurdle to clear. (Evil person that I am, I’d prefer to dig the ditch with some well-placed H-bombs, but …)

    Also, there’s more to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem than I would have expected. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Salt_Lake#Ecosystem and http://faculty.weber.edu/sharley/AIFT/GSL-Life.htm.) I think your radical modification could be designed to preserve the important wetlands, but the Usual Suspects would object to any changes whatsoever. (Think of the poor Sea Monkeys! Think of the poor brine flies!) On the other hand, you could play up your dredging as remediation of toxic contaminants, notably mercury, that currently afflict the lake.

  • Peterh

    – The dredged mud would probably be great farming soil if not for the excessive salts.
    – A 200 ft. drop from the Snake river for refilling the new Great Utah Sea, multiplied by flow rate, sounds like a LOT of hydro-power.
    – How long would tunnels have to be to drain the lake without using pumps?

  • If you’re going to invest this much infrastructure and time then don’t go for such a small payoff.
    Increase the number (or size) of pumps and refill lake Bonneville. Not to its full depth mind you (unless you want to build a REALLY big dam), but to about the provo shoreline. Some of the shallow finger extensions of the old lake could be cut off by dams. Ideally a desalination stage ought to be added so the water influx is largely fresh. Murgatroyd is right that starting with seawater is going to cause some problems. This large body of water would cause lake effect rains and snow, massively increasing the productivity of the area. The increased rainfall would also benefit the Colorado. One the surrounding area was well wetted by rain the hydrologic cycle would likely make the thing fairly stable for over a century but of course it can be topped off. Fill it with endangered Chinese and Brazilian freshwater dolphins! As a bonus, It could be integrated into the Columbia river transportation network via the Snake making cities along its coast potential ports.

    Of course there is an eminent domain issue with flooding half of Utah. This is where we leverage the fact that the Federal government owns about half the state. We give the displaced people federal land and upgrade their property from desert to lakeside. A similar refilling of Lake Lahotan in Nevada would be more awkward because that option might not be so readily available.

    • admin

      > Increase the number (or size) of pumps and refill lake Bonneville.

      That would wipe out too many existing cities and homes. However, scooping out the existing lake further out to the west would greatly increase surface area at relatively little cost. If there was a pipeline of the kind I suggested, then a number of salt water lakes could be created all around the west.

      A few reasons why I’m not a big fan of tapping the Snake River for this project:
      1) It would drain the river, which is currently needed for irrigation and drinking water elsewhere
      2) The resulting lake would be somewhere between fresh and salt, and might not be fit for much of anything. If you start off with ocean water, then it’ll clearly be a salt water lake. The fish that it could theoretically support will be kinds that obviously cannot be readily supported in the other fishing locations. You can’t fish tuna or swordfish in Idaho or Montana, for example.

      > Of course there is an eminent domain issue with flooding half of Utah. This is where we leverage the fact that the Federal government owns about half the state.

      Actually, the proper response right now is to use eminent domain to seize a good percentage of the federal lands in Utah. A bill to do just that was signed a year and a half or so ago. Haven’t heard of it since, though.

      • Murgatroyd

        1) It would drain the river, which is currently needed for irrigation and drinking water elsewhere

        It’s a big river. I’m not talking about diverting the whole thing, just tapping some of it for the Great Not-So-Salt Lake. A ditch that would move more water than the California-Utah Pipeline almost certainly would still leave plenty of water in the Snake for other uses. And you could turn off the flow in years when the river is lower than usual.

        2) The resulting lake would be somewhere between fresh and salt, and might not be fit for much of anything. If you start off with ocean water, then it’ll clearly be a salt water lake. The fish that it could theoretically support will be kinds that obviously cannot be readily supported in the other fishing locations. You can’t fish tuna or swordfish in Idaho or Montana, for example.

        A) A brackish lake will get saltier. And there are ways to make it saltier if you want, ways that will make other things (i.e., excavated mud) less salty. On the other hand, a seawater lake will get even more salty, due to evaporation. And then the salt will be deposited at the shore and in wetlands.

        B) Some critters don’t particularly care if the water is merely brackish instead of as salty as the ocean — salmon and trout and catfish and dolphins, for example. You’ll find some big salmon in the Columbia River, swimming upstream from the Pacific to spawn.

        Actually, the proper response right now is to use eminent domain to seize a good percentage of the federal lands in Utah.

        Wasn’t something of the sort attempted a few years back with Fort Sumter?

        • admin

          > I’m not talking about diverting the whole thing, just tapping some of it for the Great Not-So-Salt Lake.

          Water in the west is in perpetually short supply. Diverting a river would not add to the total available, nor would it aid in the cause of creating more evaporative lakes across Nevada and elsewhere.

          > a seawater lake will get even more salty, due to evaporation.

          Yup. That’s why a constant inflow would be needed. The three rivers that currently feed into the GSL would do much of that; desalinated water from the pipeline would do the rest.

          > salmon and trout and catfish and dolphins

          How about tuna, swordfish, lobsters, crabs? Trout and catfish can be readily fished elsewhere in the region, but not most saltwater fish.

          > Wasn’t something of the sort attempted a few years back with Fort Sumter?

          Not really. Ft. Sumter was federal land under active use by the federal government; most of the federally held lands in Utah are *not* being used.

  • Arluk iii

    Too salty for much other than brine shrimp and bacteria eh?

    “Although it has been called “America’s Dead Sea”, the lake provides habitat for millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds, and waterfowl, including the largest staging population of Wilson’s Phalarope in the world.

    The brine flies have an estimated population of over one hundred billion and serve as the main source of food for many of the birds which migrate to the lake. However, the fresh- and salt-water wetlands along the eastern and northern edges of the Great Salt Lake provide critical habitat for millions of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl in western North America. These marshes account for approximately 75% of the wetlands in Utah. Some of the birds that depend on these marshes include: Wilson’s phalarope, red-necked phalarope, American avocet, black-necked stilt, marbled godwit, Snowy Plover, western sandpiper, long-billed dowitcher, tundra swan, American white pelican, white-faced ibis, California gull, eared grebe, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, plus large populations of various ducks and geese.”

    Driving around Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona… I was blown away by the things I saw and don’t ever want it to change.

    • Anonymous

      > I was blown away by the things I saw and don’t ever want it to change.

      Well, sure, it would be better to convert places like Manhattan or Los Angeles into shallow wetlands, but the current inhabitants would probably get pissy if the fedguv used eminent domain to take their urban sprawl from ’em.

  • Anonymous

    This project is actually more sensible than the current administration’s mania for “green” crony energy, bailed out electric cars and high speed rail. If you want a jump start project to provide proof of principle and a source of energy start by pumping water from the Pacific and letting it flow into Death Valley to provide hydro electric power and jump start the hydrological cycle in the region…

  • Jeff Wright

    I really like this idea–one of your best.

  • Dugway Proving Grounds outside of Wendover, Utah, has been spraying something over the skies of Elko County, Nevada, starting about a month ago. I just photographed no less than ten jets leaving what can’t possibly be normal exhaust trails. They’re about four times wider than the trails we’re all used to seeing. Plus, we never get that many jets through here, at most about one a day. Dugway and The Newly-Formed Communist Government Of America are up to something very nefarious. And I know these jets must be from Dugway because they’re the closest commie base. I’m writing all my local, county, state, and federal officials. You need to start making your voices heard about all the anti-American, anti-freedom crap that’s coming down. Google “chemtrails” and see what you come up with. I’m emailing out my photos as we speak. Harold Dean Berry – Wells, Nevada.

    • Anonymous

      Riiiiiiiiiiiiight…

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