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Pumping seawater to Great Salt Lake would take at least 11% of Utah's electricity demand

Three BYU CCE professors provide an early estimate of the proposed pipeline's energy requirement—and it's significant


To augment the declining Great Salt Lake, a pipeline has been proposed to pump seawater from the Pacific Ocean. As extreme as it sounds, the idea is still being considered almost a year after it was first raised.

BYU Civil and Construction Engineering faculty Drs. Rob Sowby, Gus Williams, and Andrew South recently released an early analysis on the energy requirements of such a pipeline.

The short answer? One power plant.

In a preprint manuscript released earlier this month, the three authors describe ideal minimum conditions—a big, smooth pipe following a straight-line route without mountains, pumping one-third of the recommended 1.2 million acre-feet to help the lake recover. With such assumptions, they estimate the pipeline would require at least 400 megawatts during operation. That's equivalent to the output of a major power plant, or 11% of Utah's electricity demand. With current prices and technologies, the electricity would cost over $300 million per year and emit almost 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, an amount equivalent to 200,000 passenger vehicles. And that's just the lower bound.

"It's just so much water that would have to be pumped so high and so far," Sowby said. "I hope these numbers help everyone focus on immediate alternatives within the watershed that are more feasible."