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Great Salt Lake is at its lowest water level on record and continues to shrink. Utah Public Radio has teamed up with more than a dozen Utah organizations for the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a group that has come together to share multimedia stories and rigorous reports about the lake and ways to protect this critical body of water before it's too late.

Great Salt Lake dredging permit sees strong public opposition

Industrial buildings with cars parked in front, with a blue sky and puffy white clouds
Rusty Clark
/
Flickr
US Magnesium plant in Rowley, UT

US Magnesium, a mineral extraction company on the shore of Great Salt Lake, has applied for a dredging permit to extend its water intake canals because lake levels have gotten so low.

On October 19th, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality held a hearing asking for public comment on the dredging proposal. The hearing saw nearly unanimous support for Utah to deny the permit.

US Magnesium extracts magnesium and other substances from the mineral-rich waters of Great Salt Lake by evaporating off water in large ponds, and then collecting what’s left behind. Evaporation ponds are efficient ways to collect minerals in an arid landscape like Utah, but require massive amounts of water to be pumped out of Great Salt Lake’s Gilbert Bay, a move many argue negates the extensive efforts to put water back into the shrinking water body.

Numerous commenters, including HEAL Utah’s Alex Veilleux, brought up that the permit directly violates Gilbert Bay’s protected status under Utah’s Administrative Code.

“It directly violates what the Division of Water Quality is talking about doing and what they're tasked to do. But most importantly, my perspective is that it's just so frustrating to see all the work that everyone is doing right now…all being directly negated,” Veilleux said.

Jim Hopkins, a brine shrimper, said he believes the reason the permit is even being considered by the state is due to our disconnect from the lake.

“I've been out there a long time and I've seen the changes up close. I think part of the problem we have is there’s nobody out there. They’re not on the water…they also think the lake’s dead…if we dig a canal and suck out some more water, that lake will become a dead lake and not a lively lake, like it is still right now,” Hopkins said.

Suzi Montgomery, who spends time living in Chicago and Salt Lake City, emphasized future impacts the permit decision may have.

“I've never heard any Chicagoan talk about Utah…but I heard so many people, I'd go out and they'd say, ‘what's going on with your lake?’. And this is national news, and I feel like if you guys do the right thing, you'll really lead the path because we, on a grander scale, our whole planet’s in trouble,” Montgomery said.

The public comment period has been extended until November 14th, 2022.

Written public comments can be submitted to: Andrea Kilbane, General Permitting Section, Utah Division of Water Quality, PO Box 144870, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4870 or by email at: wqcomments@utah.gov

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.