"To be sure, some of Great Salt Lake's decline is a natural consequence of a warming and drying climate. But much of the blame for the falling lake lies with us." Check out this amazing Salt Lake Tribune editorial article written by Weber State University Professor Eric C. Ewert.
“God, how I long to go out West again someday – to drive some blue highway in Nevada or Utah until there’s absolutely nothing around me, then stop the car, in the middle of the road, maybe, and get out and just stand there, where I can see the horizon in every direction, and smell the air, and feel the sun and listen to the silence of the desert. I have this idea that if I could do this, time might hold still for a second, and I would know, for just a moment, what it feels like to be here.”
-Tim Kreider, author of “We Learn Nothing” a collection of essays and cartoons.
Totally impulsive, on a sunny and freshly rain-washed morning, two-weeks into the annual Utah waterfowl hunt, my spouse and I went birding at Farmington Bay. Camouflage, hunters, boats, pick-ups, dogs, and decoys provided ample on the ground evidence that the hunt was in progress. It’s one of the many seasonal dances at the Lake that simply comes with the territory. And yet, even with this buzz of enthusiasm and recreation, the Lake was still “ours”. We spotted several species of grebes and ducks, American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Marsh Wrens, Canada Geese, Northern Harriers, Killdeer, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, California Gulls, Dowitchers, and a solitary muskrat. Not bad for being impulsive.
Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area is a popular and accessible birding, bicycling, and seasonal hunting area along the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Just take the Farmington/Glover Lane exit on I-15 in Davis County. It’s one of eight Waterfowl Management Areas (WMA) located on and around the Lake that comprise nearly 90,000 acres of public conservation properties that belong to the people of Utah. You can drive or cycle around the dikes like we did, or visit the Great Salt Lake Nature Center – soon to become a state of the art visitor/education facility, and meander along the walking trail.
Managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), the function of these WMA’s is to maximize habitat values for a range of waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and raptors during migration and nesting seasons. The Great Salt Lake, its wetlands, open water, shoreline, and island habitats is an important aquatic ecosystem; locally, in North America, and within the Western Hemisphere. “It’s an international hub that connects migratory bird flyways of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and their allies as they wing their way from one point of life to another.” That’s Don Paul, Chair of Utah Linking Communities. Linking Communities is a hemispheric partnership to protect range - wide migratory bird species and their habitats. The Lake provides critical habitat for over 260 species of birds – many of which are globally significant in their numbers and rely on the Lake for resting, staging and nesting.
The Lake is also one of the most important waterfowl breeding areas remaining in the U.S. with an annual waterfowl use that exceeds 3 million birds that includes 35 species. That’s about 30% of all waterfowl in the Pacific and Central Flyway. The Lake and these WMA’s provide them and us with a unique refuge of solitude and engagement. And that’s why we were here.
Waterfowling – a term I’ve learned in my work for the Lake – is a deep tradition in our Utah culture that has endured for over a century. Of course, native peoples who lived near the Lake before white men arrived took advantage of the seasonal bounties of waterbirds as well. Personal journals and archives from the 20 private duck clubs that are located along the fringes of the lakescape, not to mention the duck hunting airboaters, reveal a rich family tradition of hunting ducks, geese and swans at the Lake and nearby tributaries for generations. A tradition that’s consistent with a cultural dynamic throughout the West that appeals to the love of nature and place.
Waterfowlers have an innate understanding about the dynamics of the Lake, and are among the strongest advocates for its protection. A study was conducted in 2011 by Duffield, J., C. Neber, and D. Patterson (Bioeconomics, Inc.). – “Utah Waterfowl Hunting: 2011 Hunter Survey, Hunter Attitudes and Economic Benefits. The study showed that the estimated economic impact in the Salt Lake City area of waterfowl - hunting related expenditures generates $97M and 1,600 full time jobs. Dollar values are an important part of the picture. But dollar values are only one part of the picture. Great Salt Lake is who we are, where we are, and how we are in this place that is a part of all of us. And it matters. We’re such lucky ducks.
Not to be overlooked in this notable mix of wetland management areas that serve to fulfill our stewardship responsibility for this wildlife endowment of the Lake is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Established in 1928, the refuge is approximately 74,000 acres and is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Located off the Forest Street exit on I-15 in Brigham City, the refuge is a key contributor to this bird rich picture. It’s connected to Bear River Bay - designated an Important Bird Area by National Audubon.
“Of all the important aquatic bird environments on the Lake, the Bear River Bay is the sweetest spot for diversity and numbers of birds during long-term average Lake elevation periods.” Don Paul.
Long-term average Lake elevation periods is worth repeating because today, the current elevation of Great Salt Lake is 4,192.5’ - only 1.5’ above the 1963 record low of 4,191’. Water in the bays plays a huge part in the number of waterfowl that come through and stay at the Lake. According to Blair Stringham, Utah Waterfowl Coordinator with DWR, it’s not uncommon to see around 500,000 birds in the WMA’s in September. When the three bays (Bear River, Farmington and Gilbert Bay) have good water, it’s not unusual to have hundreds of thousands there too. Right now, in Bear River Bay there are probably 300,000 Green-winged Teal near Promontory. But when compared to the hunt last year at this time, the bird numbers are down. The low Lake level is likely a key factor.
At the Great Salt Lake Technical Team meeting last August, a presentation about the proposed Bear River Water Development Project was made by the Utah Division of Water Resources (DWRe) and consultants from Bowen Collins & Associates. The genesis of this project comes from the 1958 Bear River Compact amended in 1980 that allocates water from the Bear among Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Through the Bear River Development Act 1991 –DWRe is authorized to develop the surface waters of the Bear and its tributaries to the tune of 220,000 acre feet annually to address the projected water needs of Utah’s growing population by 2060.
The Bear River is the source of 60% of Great Salt Lake’s surface water inflows. A water development proposal of this magnitude would certainly impact the Lake and the range of ecosystem services it provides. We already know about the wildlife and the critical habitat needs that would be at stake but so would mineral extraction, the brine shrimp industry, and recreation and tourism that themselves contribute $1.3B annually, and 7,700 full time jobs to Utah’s economy.
The Bear River Water Development Project is extremely controversial for a variety of reasons. The rationale for building it is weak. It would be a huge burden on Utah taxpayers to construct. Impacts to the Lake’s ecosystem services aren’t even considered. And the modeling and projected water needs to justify the proposal are based on a 1990’s water picture that doesn’t reflect our changing climate or drought cycles.
A Legislative Audit to determine the reliability of DWRe’s data and assess the accuracy of its projections of water demand and supply was released in May 2015. The audit lists a passel of things that need to be addressed to provide a more accurate picture of Utah’s water supply and needs. It also indicates that any shortfall in the water supply by 2060 could be filled from current sources with agricultural water conversions and more efficient water use. The audit is available at: http://fogsl.org/advocacy
So here we are at the Lake watching some hunters unloading their boat after being out on the water since before dawn. I asked them how they did. Along with a tired smile, one of the hunters said, “It was good. We got two cinnamon teals and a chance to catch up.”
Savor it. Recognize it. Talk about it. Protect it.
What you can do: Visit www.fogsl.org and visit Great Salt Lake
Air quality advocates are expressing their appreciation this week for the recent news that Kennecott Copper has abandoned its plans to construct a new rock crusher plant as part of the mine's overall expansion effort.
At this year's Fall Fundraiser we celebrated our partnership with the Great Salt Lake Marina. This video highlights the South Shore's diverse community and its significant economic contributions. Thank you to Natalie Avery and everyone else who helped produce this video!
On September 18th, 2015 FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake awarded the 2nd Annual Alfred Lambourne Prize to Max Rosenzweig for his work entitled, Ephemeral Nonsites of the Great Salt Lake and Lake Bonneville
Max describes his piece as:
"This series of images incorporates integrated diagrammatic and cartographic representations of space with counterpointing, two-dimensional, photographical perspectives. These artistic works investigate the Great Salt Lake, a slivered apparition of water to the west, an ethereal, saline landscape. The lake is a fluctuating micro-climate of water, salt, mud, rocks, crystals and wildlife.
These emulsion lifts are created by submerging the film in water after the exposure. Water bleeds into the film and the emulsion separates itself from the chemical backing and protective plastic window of the film. The emulsion floats in the water separated entirely from its protective casings, waiting to be absorbed onto another surface."
His piece will be on display until October 15th at the George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Art Gallery
In our continuing pursuit to improve Utah’s air quality, improve public participation in greater oversight of major air pollution sources, and protect public health and the environment, a settlement between the Utah Division of Air Quality (UDAQ) and Western Resource Advocates representing Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake was signed on September 9, 2015. The settlement will require a Title V permit for Tesoro oil refinery in N. Salt Lake. The Title V Clean Air Act permit will help reduce air pollution by Tesoro by creating more rigorous and protective permits, and involve the public in implementing the settlement with UDAQ.
- Lynn de Freitas, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake Exective Director
Read on below for press coverage on the settlement
Great Salt Lake is a Utah icon, as famous as great skiing or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But climate change and a growing population threaten its future. We need to ensure a healthy future for this world-famous ecosystem, used by hunters, bird-watchers, local families, tourists and the minerals and brine shrimp industries, which contribute over $1.3 billion dollars to Utah's economy. This film discusses new ideas for guaranteeing water inflows into the Great Salt Lake.
Great Salt Lake and Urmia Lake are very similar saline systems, except for one big difference, we still have a chance to save our Inland Sea.
You can watch the KSL covereage here :
“I want to have enough water so we can turn those damn pumps on again.”
- The late Governor Norm Bangerter (1933- 2015)
I would add a bittersweet amen to that, Governor.
I think it was the spring of 2003 when FRIENDS hosted a field trip to the West Desert Pumping Project (WDPP) aka the “Bangerter Pumps”. In our never-ending pursuit of Great Salt Lake discoveries, we went to satisfy our curiosity about a fairly controversial project in the 80’s that had become famous. Famous because it provided an engineering solution of mythological proportions that enhanced the Lake’s natural evaporation process by mechanically expanding its surface area out into the west desert. As part of an extensive flood control program that was being implemented to address a rising Great Salt Lake, the project was awarded the 1988 Civil Engineering Achievement of Merit by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Awesome, dude!
Such measures aren’t totally foreign to our relationship with Great Salt Lake. The railroad had already made its statement in the 1950s by constructing the infamous causeway that continues to divide the system into two ecologically distinct parts – the North and South Arms. There’s evidence that even Brigham Young considered ways of “spilling” the Lake into the west desert to increase evaporation back in 1873 when it peaked at 4,211.5’. But the WDPP was then, and is now, symbolic of how we regard the importance of the Lake’s economic and ecological values in the scheme of our modern day existence. And in that context, it also demonstrates how willing we are to persist in a tug of war relationship that defines our cultural interface between what we do and don’t want from Great Salt Lake.
On the rise-
As a shallow, terminal lake at the bottom of a 35,000 sq. mi. drainage basin with no natural outlet, a series of wet years will intensify any upward trending of the Lake’s elevation. The Lake rebounded from a record low of 4,191.3’ in 1963 and, despite a brief dry cycle in the 1970s, rose 20 feet over the course of 24 years. With that rise and an abbreviated evaporation season in 1982, the Lake’s briny waters spread out on its natural floodplain impacting a range of lakescape and landscape uses. Its surface area had nearly doubled to about 3,300 square miles. And between 1982 and 1987 (remember the river down State Street in 1983?) its volume had tripled to nearly 30 million acre- feet resulting in another historic high elevation of about 4,211.85’ mean surface level.
For 25 years between 1940 and1965 when the Lake was low, development on and around the Lake had escalated. Now, given the circumstances of these high water conditions much was at stake. Potential targets included the Salt Lake International Airport, extractive industries like minerals and brine shrimp, wildlife management areas and important habitat, public utilities such as wastewater treatment operations, roads and interstate highways, railroads and causeways, harbors and other recreational facilities, productive farmland, tourism, businesses, backyards and basements in neighborhoods, and anything else that happened to be in harm’s way from a swelling Great Salt Lake. Damages from this larger Lake were estimated at $1billion.
This kind of fluctuation of the Lake is considered within the range of its historic hydrologic cycle. However with such a stunning inundation of water at every turn, in the June 1999 report from the Utah Division of Water Resources and Utah Department of Natural Resources, The Great Salt Lake West Desert Pumping Project: Its Design, Development, and Operation, the Lake was characterized as “being out of control”, “on a destructive rampage”, and “plagued those who have utilized its shores.” Such a significant challenge from our inland sea impelled the state to step up to protect the health, safety and economic interests that were now at risk. And it was very ready, willing and able to do so.
Timing is of the essence-
By the late 1970’s quite a lot of attention had already been given to the concept of a West Desert Pumping Project as part of alternative flood control measures. In December 1983, the Utah Division of Water Resources released A Final Report West Desert Pumping Alternative-Great Salt Lake concluding that such a project was feasible. A WDPP would consist of a pumping plant, a system of canals and ponds, containment dikes and a return brine conveyance system. The extent of its footprint would go well beyond its state sovereign lands jurisdiction to include public lands, lands owned by the BLM and the US Air Force Target Range. Various permits, right-of ways (ROW), and agreements would have to be secured for a project of this scope to be constructed.
In 1984, the Southern Pacific Railroad causeway was breached to relieve the growing water differential that was banking up on the causeway from the collective inflows of the Bear, Weber/Ogden, and Jordan Rivers into the south arm. This breach dropped the elevation about one foot. Following the usual regulatory process, an Environmental Impact Statement was created, including Diking and No Action Alternatives. The final Record of Decision came in July 1986 and a 50-year ROW was granted by the BLM to the state on June 20, 1986 to “construct, operate, maintain and terminate” the WDPP. The USAF also granted the state a short-term emergency access that terminated at the end of the pumping period.
In special session, the Utah Legislature authorized $71.7 million for HB 6 – the flood control bill. The bill supported an array of immediate and long-term flood control measures that included the West Desert Pumping Project. More ominously, it also included funding for future feasibility considerations for dams and upstream storage, particularly on the Bear River that provides the lion’s share of inflows to Great Salt Lake.
From start to finish of the operation – April 10, 1987 to June 30, 1989, the pumps moved over 2.73 million acre-feet of Great Salt Lake water. The surface of the Lake dropped about 14.5” shrinking its shoreline by approximately 50,000 acres. In the first year of operation 1.4 million acre-feet of water - equivalent to 40% of the total level decline- was pumped. Even now, opinions vary about when and how long the pumps should have operated but there is consensus that the strategy was beneficial in addressing the flooding.
On the decline-
Springtime is normally the time of year boats are lowered into the harbor at the Great Salt Lake Marina. This year, boats are being lifted out for dry dock/storage until perhaps 2017. Slip renters are being encouraged by Harbormaster Dave Shearer to arrange for all boats with a draft over 3’ to be pulled out in preparation for the long awaited dredging that will finally begin on July 1. Although Great Salt Lake recreation contributes about $135.8 million annually to Utah’s economy, the $1.5 million for dredging required significant arm-twisting of Utah legislators to commit money from the Sovereign Lands Restricted Funds (that’s what this fund is for) to provide some relief. But without additional funding support from the State Parks Park Fees Restricted Funds (sic) dredging wouldn’t be happening.
Many of these boats haven’t been able to leave their slips for almost a year and sailors are preparing for a record low Lake elevation of 4,191.3’ this summer. Shearer suggests that a snowpack of 140% or more is necessary for the Lake to rise enough in 2016 to make it suitable for navigation again.
Meanwhile, in the North Arm (4,192.4’) where Lake levels are typically 1.5’ lower, the 3rd largest breeding population of American White Pelicans in North America is returning to Gunnison Island to produce the next generation of birds. The island is no longer surrounded by water. That means the population is vulnerable to land access predators.
The island and pelicans are protected under Utah law. How are the Division of Wildlife Resources, and Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands proposing to meet this jurisdictional responsibility?
We know from other saline systems in the region and around the planet that upstream water diversions and climate change have contributed to lower water levels. In some cases, such as California’s Owens Lake, lakes have dried up completely. Exposed lakebeds create dust and air quality problems that influence health and quality of life issues. At Owens Lake, millions of dollars are now being spent on trying to put water back into a system that has become notorious for its high levels of PM10.
Back in the ‘80’s Utah was ready, willing and able to take the initiative to protect economic interests that are generated by the Lake, protect the health and safety of its population, and address important ecological attributes like habitat restoration and protection.
Why aren’t we doing that now? The situation is the same: low water levels threaten economic interests, threaten the health of our citizens, and threaten critical habitat. It is time to act. At the very least $1.3 billion is at stake.
Thanks for being there for the Lake.
Officials have just released a controversial audit of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
Government officials said legislators from both sides called for the audit after claims the division opposed water conservation for fears it could reduce water revenues for water sellers.
Critics also accuse the division of inflating future water needs to scare the public into spending billions on water projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project.
Joro Walker, Senior Attorney/Utah Office Director, Western Resource Advocates
Tim Wagner, Executive Director, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment
Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director, Friends of Great Salt Lake
Joan Clayburgh, Communications Director, Western Resource Advocates
Cell: 530-318-5370, firstname.lastname@example.org
Utah Groups Forced to Sue Over Permitting More Air Pollution At HollyFrontier Refinery
State fails to protect public health when the law requires emission reductions
(April 28, 2015) Western Resource Advocates, representing Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Friends of the Great Salt Lake, is filing litigation appealing the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) decision to issue an air quality permit allowing expansion of the HollyFrontier refinery in Salt Lake City.
The case contends that the permit should be denied because the expansion will result in a major increase in air pollution in a region that is already failing to meet federal air quality standards. The modification alone will increase emissions of hazardous air pollutants by 13 tons per year. The HollyFrontier refinery proposal greatly surpasses permitted levels, with its flares alone contributing 240 tons of sulfur dioxide each year, which is more than twice the permit limit for the plant's entire operations of 110 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) in several northern Utah counties currently exceeds the Clean Air Act’s health-based 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard. Salt Lake County is also exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and is in violation of the sulfur dioxide and particulate matter (PM10) standards. Numerous polls show that air pollution remains the issue of greatest concern to most Utah residents.“We have all felt our eyes and lungs burn and worried about the health of our children and parents. Utah should not permit another new project that will result in a major increase in air pollution and make this bad situation worse,” said Joro Walker, lead attorney on the case and Western Resource Advocate’s Utah Director.
The challenge claims the Division of Air Quality failed to calculate the emissions from the proposed expansion accurately. The heart of the issue is that the expansion will result in a major increase in air pollution, which is not allowed by federal law in an air pollution non-attainment area such as the Wasatch Front. By federal law, the Division may not permit the expansion unless the company secures a greater air pollution reduction elsewhere in the non-attainment area and the Division of Air Quality shows an overall air quality benefit.“Permitting Holly to emit more pollution in our already highly polluted region is a death sentence for some individuals,” said Tim Wagner with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “Our state agencies must do a better job of reducing air pollution and protecting public health.”“There is no safe level of exposure to particulate pollution and no threshold below which negative health effects disappear. Some people literally die from exposure.
Utah’s agencies should never allow more pollution when there are alternative paths for our economy and our health to improve,” said Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.HollyFrontier is one of the largest independent petroleum refiners in the United States, processing crude oil for gasoline, asphalt and other products. Refinery particulate pollution contains high concentrations of heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds. The refinery contributes to Utah’s air pollution problem by directly emitting hazardous air pollutants and PM2.5, as well as the pollutants that form fine particulate matter during inversions.
To receive a copy of the legal filing contact joro.walker@Westernresources.org
For the last 25 years Western Resource Advocates has been one of the West’s leading conservation groups protecting the region’s air, land and water. WRA’s lawyers, scientists and economists craft innovative solutions for the most complex natural resource challenges in the region. Go to www.westernresourceadvocates.org and follow us on Twitter @WRADV.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment was formed in 2007 during one of Utah's worse inversions. The organization consists of approximately 350 medical professional within Utah, and another 4,000 supporting members of the public. UPHE is dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science- based health education and interventions that result in progressive, measurable improvements to the environment. UPHE can be found at www.uphe.org or on Facebook.