On the Water Front of Great Salt Lake - Taking the Initiative to Identify Ways to Provide Water for the Lake is the Right Thing to Do

“Great Salt Lake is an important resource and provides so many ecological, biological, economic and recreational opportunities that we cannot ignore it much longer. Climate change and our current hydrologic cycle may be our new normal. If so, we will all have to learn to get by with less water and the necessity to allocate some water to environmental preservation must finally be given equal dignity in the appropriation process as diversionary rights that deplete the water supply. We clearly have the ability to do this, and the legal tools to make it happen.”


-Steve E. Clyde, Clyde Snow & Sessions

Water Rights for Great Salt Lake: Is it the Impossible Dream?


I’ll begin my message with a big, briny thank you to Steve Clyde. Thank you, Steve for your initiative in opening a critical, timely and in some circles controversial door for engagement to talk about the legal tools that are available to provide water for Great Salt Lake. Clyde, an attorney with Clyde Snow & Sessions, is one of the state’s most respected water attorneys. At the Utah Water Law Conference last October, I had the great pleasure of hearing his presentation: Water Rights for Great Salt Lake: Is it the

Impossible Dream? (Read it at fogsl.org) To say the least, I thought Great Salt Lake’s ship had finally come in. And although his emphasis was on the Lake, the takeaway in his talk was about the importance of our natural systems and how they should be given “equal dignity in the [water] appropriation process.” Amen.

In fact, if I was stranded on a desert island – maybe in this case our very own Antelope Island – and only had 4 references with me to read, those references would be Clyde’s white paper, Professor Robert Adler’s Law Review article Toward Comprehensive Watershed Restoration and Protection for Great Salt Lake, 1999, Impacts of Water Development on Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front, 2016, a white paper by USU Professor Wayne Wurtsbaugh et al, and the 2013 Great Salt Lake Comprehensive Management Plan compiled by the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. The Division is in the Department of Natural Resources and has jurisdictional responsibility for managing the Lake in perpetuity as a public trust for the people of Utah.

I know what you’re thinking right now – Geeze! That girl needs to get out more! But I do consider these 4 sources among the “Great Books” of Great Salt Lake.

For nearly 4 years now, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Steve on the Governor’s Water Strategy Advisory Team (Advisory Team). The purpose of the Advisory Team was to inform Governor Herbert’s 50-year State Water Plan that will be designed to address projected population growth by 2060 and Utah’s water needs. In fact, because of this valuable opportunity I’ve had the pleasure of working with a wide range of talent and perspectives on water in Utah. And I’ve learned a lot.

Forty one of us, all volunteers, were tasked by the Governor to “(1) solicit and evaluate potential water management strategies;

(2) frame various water management options and implications of those options for public feedback; and

(3) based on broad input develop a set of recommended strategies and ideas to be considered a part of the 50-yr water plan.”

You can read more about this process in my Executive Director’s Message (Winter 2017) and review the final Recommended State Water Strategy, July 2017.

The Recommended State Water Strategy is the result of respectful and robust debate among team members working in small groups to identify the issues and recommendations that support the eleven key policy questions in the strategy. We covered a lot of ground. The process was not without its fits and starts. And as you would expect there were the obvious sticking points particularly in the areas of conservation, climate change, and the need for new infrastructure like the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River development projects. These issues required numerous draft revisions and negotiations among the team members that took us right up to the 11th hour.

Although Utah is the second most arid state in the nation we’re not running out of water. We just need to be smarter about inventorying/accounting, pricing, and integrating the way we understand the dynamics and the use of the resource.

But Godzilla is back! This time in the form of climate change. Climate change will require supreme due diligence in our commitment to be responsible and timely in the way we implement strategies to mitigate its impacts. Climate change is included in the strategy. The bottom line here is that although there is no perfect horse, we worked extremely hard to create a product that exhibited a shared long-term vision. A vision that, among a variety of things, includes Great Salt Lake and our environment, and ways to “modernize” the framework for Utah water law and policy to pay due regard to these important values.

On July 19th, the ink was finally dry on the document when we presented it to Governor Herbert at the State Capitol. He’ll use it to prioritize his agenda moving forward. Even though our assignment was accomplished at that point, the strategy really marks a beginning for further engagement in our important work for Utah’s water future and for the Lake. Ideally, it will be a working document that we’ll use to continue to seek ways to create accountability. We’re already talking about reconvening the Advisory Team annually for updates on how/or what we’re doing based on the recommendations we worked so hard to forge. The collective water wisdom that went into this exercise provides us with a useful framework that helps us focus our collective work on these many different fronts with an eye on our Lake.

Speaking of collective work on the Great Salt Lake water front, at the July 12th Great Salt Lake Advisory Council meeting, a draft report Water for Great Salt Lake, July 2017 was presented to council members. The report was commissioned by the GSL Advisory Council and compiled by SWCA Environmental Consultants. Its purpose is “to facilitate a discussion on how to reverse the long-term decline in Great Salt Lake water levels by considering potential strategies to maintain and/or increase the surface elevation (water levels) of Great Salt Lake. ”

Currently, the draft consists of sixty-six strategies/tools submitted by groups and individuals in response to an invitation to more than 100 recipients that went out last May. The strategies are divided into categories that include: Coordination, Environmental, Legal, Operational, Policy and Structural. Many of the ideas in the draft are the same issues that were raised in the Recommended State Water Strategy. One more call will go out for any further contributions before the Advisory Council reviews the input and begins prioritizing the strategies at its September meeting. The game is afoot.

As you know, it’s important to go wide and take a regional perspective and recognize the significance of Great Salt Lake in the context of other saline systems around the West. We need to be able to assess how those systems are doing because they also provide critical habitats for millions of migratory birds for resting, staging, and nesting during their journey. That’s just what National Audubon Society’s report Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline, July 2017 does. This report is another important tool that helps inform our understanding about how water – or the lack of it due to upstream diversions and climate change -- affects ecosystem health.

With the additional insights provided by the Great Salt Lake Level Matrix in the 2013 Great Salt Lake Comprehensive Management Plan that visually describes how different Lake elevations influence habitats and ecosystem services that contribute $1.3B to Utah’s economy. And the recently available Integrated Water Resource Management Model developed by CH2M for the state to help inform resource management decisions for Great Salt, the time is ripe to move forward on the water front.

As Steve Clyde proposed in his presentation at the Utah Water Law Conference, “ We clearly have the ability to do this, and the legal tools to make it happen.”

In the words of the late economist, Rudiger Dornbusch “Things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

So let’s make it happen. We’re ready. How about you?

In saline and summer,


Comments must be received by September 12, 2017.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District has posted Public Notice SPK-2007-01985-UO to www.spk.usace.army.mil/Media/RegulatoryPublicNotices.aspx.

The Utah Department of Transportation has applied for a permit to place dredged or fill material in approximately 43.49 acres of waters of the United States to construct the West Davis Corridor project.  The approximately 19-mile-long project site runs through portions of West Point, Syracuse, Layton, Kaysville, Farmington, and Centerville, from I-15 in Farmington to 1800 North in West Point and can be seen on the Farmington, Kaysville, Clearfield, and Roy USGS Topographic Quadrangles.

Written comments and/or a request for a paper copy of the notice may be submitted to project manager Matt Wilson at the Bountiful Regulatory Office, 533 West 2600 South, Suite 150, Bountiful, Utah 84010-7744, email Matthew.S.Wilson@usace.army.mil, or telephone (801) 295-8380 X 11.


The final draft of the Recommended State Water Strategy compiled by the Governor's Water Strategy Advisory Team is now available.


The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council (Council) is requesting submissions of strategies or tools to maintain or increase the surface elevation of Great Salt Lake (GSL).  To date, the Council has received sixty-six (66) strategies/tools submitted by groups and individuals in Utah.  The Council is compiling these strategies to facilitate a discussion on how to reverse the long-term decline in GSL water levels. Attached find a draft report summarizing the 66 strategies received, to date.  Before completing its report, the Council wants to make sure it has not missed strategies, tools or options you believe might be useful. Please share your suggestions of potential options, tools or strategies to get more water in GSL with bnicholson@swca.com no later than July 28, 2017.  Please include a description of the strategy, a statement of its applicability to GSL, and potential limitations on its implementation (see format of prior submissions in the draft report).   You may also provide comments on prior submissions.  To encourage a broad scope of responses, all suggestions will be included and all submitters will remain anonymous. 



Wetland Plants of Great Salt Lake, A Guide to Identification, Communities, & Bird Habitat

A new guidebook to wetland plants of Great Salt Lake is now available from Utah State University Library Digital Commons. The guidebook is free to access and an excellent resource for anyone interested in Great Salt Lake ecosystems. Check it out today!

Click Here for Guidebook Access


Wetland Plants of Great Salt Lake: a guide to identification, communities, & bird habitat is a wetland plant identification guide, resulting from collaborative research efforts about Great Salt Lake (GSL) wetland conditions and bird habitat. Dr. Rebekah Downard collected dissertation field data from GSL wetlands during 2012–2015, the majority of which informed this work. Dr. Maureen Frank contributed her guide to GSL wetland vegetation and how to manage native plants as high-quality habitat for birds. The intended purpose in producing this guide was to create an informative source that could assist researchers, land managers, birders, and wetland enthusiasts in identifying, studying, managing, and understanding Great Salt Lake wetland plants, communities, and birds.


Downard, Rebekah; Frank, Maureen; Perkins, Jennifer; Kettenring, Karin; and Larese-Casanova, Mark, "Wetland Plants of Great Salt Lake, A Guide to Identification, Communities, & Bird Habitat" (2017). All Current Publications. Paper 1761.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017 09:24

Work Underway on Promontory Landfill

Work underway for landfill in 'middle of Mars'

John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

PROMONTORY POINT, Box Elder County — An old controversy has come back to life in one of Utah's most remote places.

Construction crews have begun work on an enormous landfill at the tip of the Promontory peninsula that juts into the Great Salt Lake. The barren location may give a boost to the tax base of Box Elder County.

"We're going to increase revenues; we're going to increase jobs," said Brett Snelgrove, director of Utah Operations for Promontory Point Resources, which began construction work last month.

The landfill site is so remote that the easiest way to reach it is to drive along the railroad causeway running straight west from Ogden across the Great Salt Lake.

The causeway crosses the peninsula at its southern tip, known as Promontory Point. The peninsula itself is an uninhabited mountain range that extends southward into the lake.

"The permitted landfill is for 1,000 acres, and we have 1,000 acres of buffer zone around it," Snelgrove said as he walked across a stark landscape that's being excavated and graded by earth-moving equipment.

"It's like getting dropped off in the middle of Mars," Box Elder County Commissioner Stan Summers said after visiting the property.

Summers supports the project and said he believes the remote location is a plus.

"I would like to see economic growth with the least amount of impacts on residents," he said.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has issued the company a Class 1 permit allowing the landfill to accept waste only from government entities in Utah.

The project isn't exactly new. In fact, it's been controversial since it was first proposed in 2001. But Promontory Point Resources bought the project from its previous owners and claims to have solved some of the problems that led to controversy.

According to Snelgrove, it's partly a matter of clearing up some public misunderstanding.

"We've been trying to allow people to know the type of waste that we're hauling," he said. "We're not hauling hazardous waste."

But critics are watching closely. Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, worries that transporting waste by rail across the lake — or by truck on a gravel road that runs the length of the peninsula — will put dust and trash in the air around the northern margins of the lake.

"Landfills are notable for losing a lot of waste along the way," de Freitas said. "Inevitably there will be evidence of the trail of where this transport is happening."

Snelgrove argues that the company will keep its trash under control.

"There will be semitrucks that have trailers that are fully covered and fully sealed," he said. "It will be dumped and then immediately covered, and so it won't be sitting open for anything to blow around. We'll have 35-foot fences. They're big wind fences, and they will stop the trash."

Construction crews have begun work on an enormous landfill at the tip of the Promontory peninsula that juts into the Great Salt Lake in Box Elder County. The director of the project said they are doing everything they can to make sure trash doesn't get blown around, including making sure everything is covered, and having big wind fences that will stop the trash. (Photo: John Hollenhorst, Deseret News)

The company hopes to transport some of the waste by rail. An arrangement is under negotiation with Union Pacific, according to Snelgrove, but so far the railroad has not formally agreed to the plan.

A big concern of critics is that the company has applied to the state for a Class 5 permit, which would allow disposal of commercial waste originating at Utah companies, as well as waste from companies outside the state.

"We already have six Class 5 permit landfills in the state," de Freitas said. "Do we need another?"

The alleged need for the commercial disposal is one of the things the company is required to document before the Department of Environmental Quality will issue a Class 5 permit. The law requires a showing of need within the state.

So far, Promontory Point Resources hasn't firmly signed up a single customer. However, Snelgrove says negotiations are moving right along.

"We have people that are lined up and ready to go," he said. "They ask how soon can we have our Class 5 (permit) and how soon can we have the operation ready to go."

Critics worry that if the state issues the permit, the company will import waste chemicals like PCBs or fly ash from smokestacks.

"It's toxic and it has high metal content in it," de Freitas said.

Snelgrove said his company has no current plans to import that kind of waste, but it hasn't been ruled out either.

"Anything that we haul in here, any industrial waste — anything like that — will meet the stringent requirements of Utah," he said.

Promontory Point Resources expects to open the landfill in September, with or without a Class 5 permit.

Link: KSL Story



Saving a Few Minutes on Commute. But at What Cost?

Salt Lake Tribute Op-Ed


By Roger Borgenicht, Ann Floor and Lynn de Freitas


We know we can't build our way out of congestion. Evidence from around the country shows that expanding and building new freeways ultimately increases congestion by attracting more automobile use. Nevertheless, on Thursday, a public comment period began on the final environmental impact statement for construction of the West Davis Highway, and it ends Aug. 31. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) says the road is needed to cut auto commute time by a few minutes during peak rush hour.

At an expected cost of more than $600 million, the 19-mile, high-speed, four-lane, divided roadway through western Davis and Weber counties would run from I-15 and Legacy Parkway in Farmington, northwest to West Point. It would impact homes, subdivisions, two elementary schools, community parks, farms and the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. It will make air quality worse and will cause negative human health impacts. All this just to cut auto commute time at rush hour by a few minutes.

Utahns for Better Transportation (UBET) is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and community groups that has been working for better transportation solutions for the Wasatch Front for more than 20 years. Our aim is to improve air quality, build community, promote transit and more travel choices, and maintain and protect our exceptional quality of life in Utah. We can accomplish these goals by reducing, rather than accommodating, the predicted increase in the number of miles we drive each day.

In 1997, when Gov. Mike Leavitt announced his vision to build the Legacy Highway, UBET championed a campaign that instead advocated for shared solutions including more balanced transportation investments to support transit, bike and walk trips. That effort culminated in a parkway, not a freeway, with a smaller right of way (footprint), slower speeds, quiet pavement, no trucks, no billboards, and the 2,100-acre Legacy Nature Preserve. Transit (FrontRunner) and bikeways (Legacy Trail) were also implemented as part of the Legacy shared solution. This would not have happened without UBET.

When UDOT proposed a northern extension of the Legacy Parkway (West Davis Highway), UBET once again advocated for the Shared Solutions Alternative instead of building a new roadway. Our goal was to improve existing east/west arterials to provide convenient access from the west side of Davis County to I-15 and FrontRunner. The alternative encouraged land use patterns that included mixed-use town centers, boulevard roadway configurations (providing safe walking and biking while also maintaining traffic flow), improvements to I-15 overpasses, and convenient bus service.

After many months of meetings with UDOT and municipalities along the proposed route, the UBET alternative initially passed UDOT's primary criteria (reduce rush hour congestion and delay) with high marks. However, when UDOT reran the alternative a second time, using an updated model, it failed to meet its criteria. This prevented the Shared Solution Alternative from advancing to UDOT's second criteria evaluation that would have considered impacts to the built and natural environment.

We commend UDOT for the collaborative process used to develop and evaluate the Shared Solution Alternative. And, although UDOT is planning to build the new road to include some features similar to those on Legacy Parkway — quiet pavement, dark-sky lighting, and bike and pedestrian trails — current plans will allow for heavy trucks and higher speeds, and the possibility of billboards, which are prohibited on parkways, including Legacy. The heavy trucks will bring more noise and pollution and will tear up the road surface faster, and a higher speed limit will be less safe. And while we are pleased the highway will incorporate some of the features we believe will make a better road, we are heartsick for our friends in Davis County whose property will be negatively impacted. Some will lose their homes, and many others will have their neighborhoods permanently changed. The very reason they chose to live in west Davis County will be forever altered by the road.

We will be weighing in on the environmental impact statement for the proposed West Davis Highway, which is available on UDOT's website (www.udot.utah.gov/westdavis). We encourage you to join us in expressing your opinion. Let's build community, not roads, by promoting more travel choices for everyone.

Roger Borgenicht and Ann Floor are co-chairpersons of Utahns for Better Transportation. Lynn de Freitas is executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake.


Happening Now

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will be releasing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) within the next few weeks. The Final EIS is a large report, documenting all the data, information, input and analysis the team has collected and studied for the past seven years. It will also include responses to public and agency comments provided on the Draft EIS. 

The Final EIS will be posted on the Documentation page of the study website. Hard copies of the document will also be available for viewing at various locations throughout the study area (a list of sites will be posted on the study website). 

Preferred Alternative 

The UDOT and FHWA preferred alternative will be identified in the Final EIS. This recommendation is based on all the data and information reported in the Final EIS, as well as the feedback from the public. The Record of Decision is expected to be signed by FHWA later this year.  

Once the Final EIS is released, updated maps identifying the preferred alternative will be available on the Maps page of the study website.

Next Steps

Public Comment Period

 A 30-day public comment period will follow the release of the Final EIS. During this time, the public is encouraged to review the contents of the Final EIS and provide comments through the website, via email, or by mail. These comments will be included in the overall study record and will be considered in preparation of the Record of Decision by FHWA.  

Questions? Concerns? 

To speak to a study representative, please contact a member of the project team at 877-298-1991 or westdavis@utah.gov.. 

Stay Involved and Informed 

To learn more about the EIS process and be involved in the West Davis Corridor Study, visit our website at www.udot.utah.gov/westdavis

Utahns are invited to weigh in on a set of recommendations for a 50-year state water strategy before those recommendations are finalized and delivered to Gov. Gary Herbert. The draft recommendations have been written over the last four years by the State Water Strategy Advisory Team, a volunteer group of water experts including researchers, the Utah climatologist, water managers, agricultural representatives, environmental advocates, elected officials and others.

Read the Draft HERE

The draft recommendations will be available for online comment at envisionutah.org from Thursday, June 15 through Monday, June 26, 2017. Utahns can give public comment at a meeting on Wednesday, June 28 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. in the state office building auditorium. Following that public comment meeting, the advisory team will deliberate further to establish the final language of the recommendations. A final document will be delivered to Gov. Herbert on July 19.

“The future of water in Utah is immensely complex, and it will affect everyone in more ways than we realize,” said Warren Peterson, one of the chairs of the State Water Strategy Advisory Team. “The advisory team has reached some consensus on how to address that complexity, but we’re looking for Utahns across the state to weigh in before we deliver these recommendations to Gov. Herbert.”

The process to create this document began in 2013 when Gov. Herbert asked the State Water Strategy Advisory Team to make recommendations for a state water strategy that would meet Utah’s water needs through 2060 — when Utah’s population will be double what it is today. The ultimate goal of the strategy is to ensure Utah has adequate water resources to maintain a high quality of life, a healthy environment and a thriving economy for generations to come.

The advisory team is chaired by three long-time water experts, Warren Peterson, Tage Flint and Representative Tim Hawkes. Envision Utah, a nonprofit organization focused on finding collaborative solutions to Utah’s long-term challenges, helped facilitate the work of the advisory team.

Members of the advisory team have dedicated countless hours of research, intense discussion and listening to the public to write these recommendations. In addition to preparation of recommendations to Gov. Herbert, the advisory team was part of the Your Utah, Your Future effort that gathered input from more than 52,000 Utahns. Advisory team members have also taken public comments both formally and informally. An early version of the recommendations document was also open for public comment during the fall of last year.

“There’s likely never been a process like this that’s received so much public input,” said Tim Hawkes, one of the advisory team chairs. “But that’s how we have to deal with water in Utah. Every decision about how we use our water affects someone or something else downstream. So we’ve needed input from researchers and experts, but we’ve also needed input from Utah citizens — and we’ll continue to need that collaborative discussion moving forward.”

The specific recommendations are broken into 11 topics addressing different aspects of our water resources, water use and water infrastructure. In summary, the recommendations are about making decisions based not only on the best data and analysis, but also the best ideas the collective wisdom of Utah’s citizens can provide to meet our water needs and those of generations as we navigate an uncertain but promising future. The entire advisory team document is available at envisionutah.org.

Message from Lynn de Freitas, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake Executive Director and Advisory Team Member

Salt Lake Tribune Response: Latest Draft of State Water Strategy Still Includes Controversial Projects

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial: Utah Water Report Shows How Much We Have to Learn

Bagley Cartoon Water


Why We Care

  • The Great Salt Lake has a unique character and, when one becomes acquainted with her, a well-developed personality. She moves and has moods, she sleeps and she wakes. Like any new friend, one can become attached quickly, but will need an entire lifetime to come to know her intimately.

    Rob Kent de Grey, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant