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Utah’s “Lake Stink”

While the Great Salt Lake is famous worldwide, it’s notorious locally for what has been dubbed “lake stink.” These infrequent smelly episodes usually don’t last long, but historically they have been around since pioneer days.

The saltiest of the Great Salt Lake’s water sits on the bottom of the lake. The heavy brine traps organic material (i.e., algae and plant and animal remains) and gases at the bottom of the lake. When the bottom of the lake gets stirred up, lots of bubbles rise to the surface. The bubbles release the gas that forms from the decaying organic matter, and this gas smells anything but pleasant. It smells somewhat like rotten eggs, not unlike the sulfur hot springs that are also common in the intermountain west.

For most residents of the Wasatch Front, “lake stink” wrinkles their noses perhaps two or three times a year, for usually a few hours a day. Those who live closer to Farmington Bay are bothered somewhat more often. The odor is most often noticeable when northwest winds blow across the lake, stir up the shallow waters, and carry the smell to populated areas.