Salt Lake County is bordered on the East and west by mountains creating a valley. Part of the Great Salt Lake is included in the northern part of the county. When looking at Salt Lake County today, you might forget that only a couple hundred years ago the valley was empty of human structures and many trees. A few Shoshone and Ute Indians used the area for hunting. William H. Ashley trappers, around 1824, were the first white men to see the area. The area changed forever when in 1847 the Mormon pioneers came into the valley led by Brigham Young. Within days after their arrival these pioneers set up a city that they called the Great Salt Lake City that later became known as Salt Lake City, the county seat and State Capitol of Utah. In the 1930’s some smaller towns, like Alta, changed from being mining communities into ski areas. These ski areas helped bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City.
There is much to see and do in Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas. While many visitors come to the area to see Temple Square and other historical sites, nearby canyons are well-known for skiing, camping, and enjoyable hikes. Salt Lake City is also home to the Utah Symphony, the Utah Jazz, and the University of Utah. The State Capitol Building is a great place to visit to see the branches of state government at work and see the Renaissance Revival style architecture. Great Salt Lake contains several islands, causeways, a railroad, three state parks and an earthwork sculpture called the Spiral Jetty.
The lake is a popular recreation area, with hiking, sailing and swimming available. Great Salt Lake is typically bigger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The size changes, however, as water levels rise and fall. The lake is only 14 feet (4 meters) deep on average so a foot of water loss can make a big difference in its total size. These are the average dimensions of Great Salt Lake, according to USGS, Friends of Great Salt Lake, and the University of Utah.
• Surface area: 1,700 square miles (4,402 square kilometers) on an average year
• Length: 75 miles (120 km)
• Width: 28 miles (45 km)
• Average altitude of the water surface: 4,200 feet (1,280 meters)
• Maximum depth: 33 feet (10 m)
• Average depth: 14 feet (4 m)
• Total watershed area: 21,000 square miles (54389.75 square km), encompassing most of northern Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming.
• Record high water level: In 1986, the altitude at the water surface was 4,212 feet (1,283 m) and the lake’s total surface area was 2,300 square miles (5,956 square km).
• Record low water level: In 1963, the altitude at the water surface was 4,191 feet (1,277 m) and the lake’s total surface area was 937 square miles (2,426 square km).
The Great Salt Lake lies in a region of the Western United States called the Great Basin. The Wasatch Range rises to the east of the lake, with several 11,000-foot mountains. The Great Salt Lake Desert is west of the lake. It features a flat expanse of salt crust called the Bonneville Salt Flats, which has ideal conditions for attempts to break land-speed records. The lake is a remnant of Lake Bonneville, an ancient, freshwater lake from the last Ice Age, said Bonnie Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute and a professor of biology at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Lake Bonneville was 325 miles (523 km) long and 135 miles (217 km) wide and 1,000 feet (308 m) deep. Lake Bonneville formed about 30,000 years ago from a small saline lake. Nearly 17,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville overflowed at Red Rock Pass in Idaho and a yearlong flood ensued. The lake lost about 375 feet (114 m) of water, according to the USGS.
Lake Bonneville underwent several periods of shrinking and stabilizing. These changes were due to increased evaporation and a warming climate. There are four different shorelines visible as ridges on Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. The Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah are a remnant of Lake Bonneville. The modern Great Salt Lake emerged about 10,000 years ago. Local Native American tribes knew about Great Salt Lake, of course. As Lake Bonneville shrank, all of the minerals in it including salt concentrated into steadily less water. Every year, 2.2 million tons (1,814, 369 metric tons) of salt flows into Great Salt Lake from tributary rivers, according to USGS. This accumulation of minerals and no outlet to the ocean results in a salt lake. Great Salt Lake is a sodium chloride lake, said Baxter. The hyper saline northern arm (also called Gunnison Bay) is about 30 percent salt. The southern portion of the lake (also called Gilbert Bay) fluctuates between 6 and 27 percent salinity.
About 4.3 billion tons (3,628,738,960 metric tons) of salt are in Great Salt Lake. As with many other saline lakes, including the Dead Sea, it is possible to float in Great Salt Lake.
Great Salt Lake has three feeders: the Bear, Weber and Jordan rivers. These rivers carry fresh water from melted snow in the Wasatch Mountains into the eastern area of the lake. Sixty-six percent of fresh water entering the lake comes from these rivers. Additional fresh water comes from rainfall, groundwater and springs, according to Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program. No feeders reach Gunnison Bay in the northwestern part of the lake. The western part of the Great Salt Lake watershed is desert and does not bring water into the lake except in very wet years.
There are 11 islands in Great Salt Lake, including the 28,800-acre (116 square km) Antelope Island, which is home to a state park and one of America’s largest free-roaming herds of bison, according to the Utah State Parks. Gunnison Island is home to a large population of pelicans. Several of the larger islands in the southern part of Great Salt Lake, including Antelope Island, become peninsulas when the water level is low. According to USGS, five businesses extract salt and other minerals from the lake through solar evaporation ponds. No food-grade salt comes from the lake; Great Salt Lake salt is used for deicers, road salt, water softeners and salt licks for livestock.
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The Great Salt Lake has a vibrant and unique ecosystem. It is most famous as an important refuge for migrating birds. “Great Salt Lake is the largest inland body of water on the Pacific flyway”. “This is a critical habitat for migrating birds to feed and grow in before they move on. There are only two invertebrates in the lake, brine shrimp and brine flies, but the numbers of these species provide an amazing amount of food for these birds.” The size of its wetlands and the diversity of it aquatic environments also make Great Salt Lake appealing to many different bird species. Some are the American avocet, phalarope, bald eagle, barn owl, earned grebe, golden eagle, northern harrier and snowy plover, according to Great Salt Lake Marina.
According to Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, more than 7.5 million birds in 257 species either stop at Great Salt Lake on their migrations of live at it, including one-third of the world’s population of phalaropes (500,000 birds). Brine shrimp are the most populous animal in Great Salt Lake. These tiny crustaceans live in salt water around the world, but only one species, The West is in a drought cycle that, compounded by warming temperatures in Utah and surrounding states, results in less snowpack and precipitation, and, consequently less water entering Great Salt Lake through rivers, snowfall and rainfall. But local human activity plays a much bigger role in Great Salt Lake water loss. Currently, about 40 percent of the river water is diverted and used for farming, industry and other forms of human consumption.
According to Wurtsbaugh, human water use has lowered the lake level 11 feet (3.3 meters) in the last 10 years. Water loss affects the entire ecosystem of Great Salt Lake. It increases salinity, which could impact brine shrimp and birds. Migrating fowl have fewer places to stay, as wetlands are desiccated. Butler noted the pelican population: “Pelicans nest on Gunnison Island because it has no predators, but when the water levels are too low, predators can walk out to the island.”
Humans also impact the lake through pollution. Great Salt Lake is unique among saline lakes in that it is next to a major metropolitan area, said Butler, and the Salt Lake City area is expected to double to 4 million people over the next 30 years. That proximity can cause problems, which are exacerbated by Great Salt Lake’s lack of outlet. “Everything that happens in the watershed and air shed [including pollution] can be seen in the lake,” said Butler. Rivers carry not only trash but toxins and other chemicals into Great Salt Lake. Polluted air brings in additional toxins. In the last few years, Salt Lake City has seen an uptick in crime, particularly around the tourist-centric downtown area. While the violent crime rate is lower than the national rate, the property crime is higher. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges, the city of 191,000 is where your undecipherable handwriting is interpreted and where your rubber chickens are made.
• Despite its rep as a conservative religious town, Salt Lake City has a thriving LGBT community and was even voted “Gayest City in the USA” by the Advocate in 2012.
• Due to its short distance to the Great Salt Lake, the city was originally named “Great Salt Lake City.” The word “great” was dropped from the official name in 1868.
• Located just west of Temple Square, the Family History Library is the largest genealogical library in the world. It is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, and is free of charge and open to the public.
• The streets in downtown Salt Lake City are unusually wide. When Mormon leader Brigham Young mapped out the city, the roads were built to accommodate the oxcarts that the settlers drove—each street was built wide enough for an oxcart to make a U-turn.
• The Great Salt Lake is supposedly home to the North Shore Monster, which witnesses in 1877 described as having the body of a crocodile and the head of a horse.
• SLC (and Utah more broadly) has one of the youngest populations in the United States, thanks to its very high birth rate.
• Established in 1868, Salt Lake City’s Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) was the country’s first department store. The store was eventually turned into a Macy’s, although the original facade was preserved.
• As of 2014, Salt Lake City was home to more plastic surgeons per capital than any other city in the U.S.
• Salt Lake City is home to Loftus Novelty, the United States’ leading manufacturer of rubber chickens.
• USPS Remote Encoding Facility, where mail bearing unreadable addresses is sent to be deciphered, is located in Salt Lake City. A team of postal geniuses work here 24/7.
• Salt Lake City is the only U.S. capital with three words in its name.
• The street-naming convention in Salt Lake City is somewhat unique. The city is laid out on a numbered grid, and the naming concept is very similar to the way in which the globe’s latitude and longitude are laid out. Temple Square (or the corner of Main Street and South Temple Street) stands in for the prime meridian (marking the coordinates 0 East, 0 West, 0 North, and 0 South), and the streets south of this point are named 100 South, 200 South, and so on. In addition, although the name of a street would be written as “100 South” on street signs, it’s spoken aloud as “1st South.”
• According to Kraft Foods, Salt Lake City is responsible for the world’s highest JELL-O consumption per capital. This honor is owed, no doubt, to the fact that JELL-O is a favorite among members of the Mormon Church. As such, Utah’s “Mormon Corridor” region has been often called “the JELL-O Belt.”
• The Seagull Monument stands in SLC’s Temple Square to commemorate the story of the Miracle of the Gulls in 1848, wherein the Mormon settlers’ crops were saved from a swarm of katydids by several flocks of native seagulls, which devoured the crickets over a two-week period. This event was regarded as a miracle by the Mormons, and the California seagull was subsequently named the state bird of Utah.
• As they settled Salt Lake City, the Mormons were the first in the American West to implement a large-scale irrigation system. One of their first items of business upon arrival in the region in 1847 was to dam City Creek and cause it to flood, so they could plant potatoes in the resulting softened soil. Sourced from the Jordan River, their complicated irrigation plan eventually included 1000 miles of ditches and transformed the arid Salt Lake Valley into arable farmland, enabling the population in Salt Lake City to grow quickly.
Salt Lake County Utah Court Directory
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Clerk
David A. Sime
Moss U.S. Courthouse
350 South Main St., 3rd Fl.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101-2106
351 S. West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
U.S. Attorney Website
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