Louis Sahagun, LA Times

When dust storms began rising off the dry bed of Owens Lake, authorities in the Eastern Sierra blamed Los Angeles’ thirst. The city had, after all, drained the lake in the 1920s to serve its faucets.

Now, as dust kicks up from Mono Lake, authorities in the Eastern Sierra are once again blaming that water-craving metropolis about 350 miles to the south.

But this time, they’re also blaming climate change.

Since 1994, a landmark State Water Resources Control Board decision has capped L.A.’s diversions of the streams that feed Mono Lake, defusing for a time one of California’s most protracted environmental battles.

Scientists say climatic shifts, however, are bringing less snow to the Sierra Nevada and less snowmelt to Mono Lake. That means if Los Angeles keeps taking its allocated share, it will lead to a decline in lake levels and increased health risks for those exposed to windblown dust from the receding shoreline, according to the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.

To protect Mono Basin’s ecosystem and airshed, regulatory officials say, will require drafting new predictive models of precipitation, temperature and evaporation rates to control diversions into an aqueduct system that has transformed the ancient brine lake into the largest source of powder-fine air pollution in the United States.

Of particular concern are particulates of 10 microns or less, which are regulated by state and federal laws because they can lodge deep in the lungs, causing respiratory injuries. Dust storms at Mono Lake exceeded federal health standards 33 times in 2016, officials said.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power takes issue with the Great Basin district’s warning that more restrictive measures may be needed to meet clean air standards.

“We’re headed for a showdown with Los Angeles; no doubt about it,” said Phillip Kiddoo, air pollution control officer at Great Basin.

Mono Lake

Phillip Kiddoo, air pollution control officer for the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, walks across salt and fine white sand at Mono Lake's shoreline, which is prone to dust storms. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

“The best way to control Mono’s airborne particulates is to raise the lake level, submerging exposed areas of lake bed prone to dust storms,” Kiddoo said. “To do that, however, L.A. has to agree to further reduce its annual exports of water, which isn’t likely.

“While we cannot interfere with L.A.’s water conveyance system, we could file a lawsuit,” he said. “And California health and safety codes give Great Basin authority to assess the city for our legal expenses.”

Rich Harasick, the DWP’s senior assistant general manager of the water system, said further reductions of its water exports aren’t needed. Since the water board’s 1994 decision, he said, the utility’s diversions have had “a very limited influence on Mono Lake’s elevation.”

Today, he said, the lake level is mainly influenced by weather conditions, which are affecting watersheds in which it operates throughout the Eastern Sierra.




Los Angeles Times Click here to continue reading.

Lake Bonneville Geologic Conference October 3-4, 2018

Lake Bonneville Geologic Short Course October 5-6, 2018

The conference and short course will be held at the Utah Department of Natural Resources Auditorium at 1594 West North Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference will be open to the geologic community. The conference will cover geologic topic related to pre-Bonneville Quaternary lakes, Lake Bonneville, the Gilbert episode, and Great Salt Lake. The short course will be led by Jack Oviatt and will review Lake Bonneville geology. The first day of the short course will consist of classroom instruction and the second day will consist of a field trip to nearby sites where Bonneville stratigraphy and landforms will be observed. These meetings are sponsored by the Utah Geological Survey and the Utah Division of Professional and Occupational Licensing.

The conference format will include technical presentations, a poster session, and group discussions.

If you are interested in presenting at the conference, please contact Adam McKean for further information. Registration for the meeting will hopefully open by the end of July. A separate formal announcement will be sent out with an online registration link on that day.

A registration fee of $26 per day will be charged all participants (lunch, morning and afternoon snacks, and short course booklet will be provided).

Please contact Adam McKean with questions (801-537-3386 or adammckean@utah.gov).

Partial funding for this educational opportunity has been provided by the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing and the Education and Enforcement Fund.

Click here for more information.

Thursday, 28 June 2018 08:48

A Recipe For Extreme Organisms

By Brian Switek

Look at the Great Salt Lake and you might think of the vast body of water as lifeless. That’s far from the truth, of course. Not only is the Great Salt Lake home to an incredible number of brine shrimp - fodder for migrating birds looking to refuel - it also boasts microscopic life that’s adapted to the harsh conditions of the super-salty water. They’re called halophiles, and our Natural History Museum of Utah exhibit staff has just come up with a perfect recipe to help them thrive in our exhibit about the local lake.

There’s no single biological category for halophiles. “Most of them are bacteria,” Museum exhibit services supervisor Will Black says, “but they could also be eukaryotes,” or organisms made up of a cell or cells containing their DNA inside a nucleus. Regardless of their classification, though, Black notes that what makes halophiles distinct is right there in their name - halophile is Greek for “salt-loving.”

Click here to read on.gsl ha 2

Register for the Dialogue on Collaboration

June 21, 2018, 1:00 - 5:00 pm

SJ Quinney College of Law, Level 6

The Great Salt Lake:

What Can Collaboration Bring to the Table?

Registration for the June Dialogue on Collaboration on "The Great Salt Lake: What Can Collaboration Bring to the Table?" closes June 13. Space is limited, so we recommendregistering soon.

Dialogue participants will have the opportunity to learn about and practice collaboration skills, network with peers, and discuss interconnected challenges and opportunities for collaboration around the Great Salt Lake. Guest speakers will help set the stage for productive, informed dialogue.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Bonnie Baxter, Great Salt Lake Institute
  • Laura Ault, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands
  • Steve Clyde, Clyde Snow Attorneys at Law
  • Jeff Richards, Rocky Mountain Power

The Dialogue is co-hosted by the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program, part of the Wallace Stegner Center at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, and The Langdon Group.

This event is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served. Free parking will be available to participants at the Rice-Eccles Stadium. We encourage you to take public transportation to our events. Email Katherine Daly with additional questions:katherine.daly@law.utah.edu.

This Dialogue on Collaboration is generously sponsored by:

The Dialogue is part of the Utah Program on Collaboration, which includes:

Click here to view any of the wonderful 2018 Issues Forum Presentations. Thank you again to our sponsors, speakers, and everyone who made this event a big briny success. 


Executive Director's Message – Spring 2018

“Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into. “

Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel (Laurel & Hardy)

On February 16, 2018 – just short of a year into the process – Promontory Point Resources LLC (PPR) withdrew its application for a Class V Permit, which was at that time under review by the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control. In its letter to Scott Anderson, the Division Director, PPR requested that his staff discontinue review of the application “until further notice.”  Although the train has stopped short of the station, it’s highly unlikely that it won’t eventually show up. I hope I’m wrong about this but my skepticism leads me to believe that it’s only a matter of time before this economic boondoggle rears its ugly head once again. I say this because the money that has already been thrown at it and the politics that support it will continue to fuel it.

That being said, a lot has happened with this convoluted saga both before and after PPR’s request to withdraw its application. My goal here is to help shed additional light on some of the deeper corners of this conversation and to help you maintain your sense of footing on the issue by including some things that are worth repeating for context. 

I wrote extensively about this in the Winter 2018 newsletter. Important points were reiterated in the joint Op-Ed that FRIENDS and Sierra Club published in the 1/26/18 Salt Lake Tribune – Another Class V Landfill is Not the Way to Generate Economic Development for Utah. And we talked about the process and asked questions with the Division at public information meetings hosted by FRIENDS and Sierra Club in January and February. Nothing has changed and the message remains the same today. 

There are many reasons why this proposal is a huge gamble for both Box Elder County and the people of Utah. As a potential economic asset worthy of investment, it’s rife with empty promises and predictable missteps in its practices. And it’s an extremely risky proposition. Perhaps the only thing about it that can be said with any certainty is that it is a clear and present danger to Great Salt Lake

Because it’s located next to this hemispherically significant ecosystem that’s critical to millions of migratory birds, a global brine shrimp fishery, and mineral extraction operations that rely on the purity of their products, it jeopardizes a known economic generator of $1.32B annually to the people of Utah. That figure includes $375M in total labor income, and 7,700 jobs that are created from the Lake’s ecosystem services. This project jeopardizes a valuable and irreplaceable resource by constructing a repository for toxic waste and contamination that all Utahns will have to live with for centuries to come. Which is why it’s imperative that we keep our eye on this disturbing foul ball. 

You will recall that under its existing Class I Permit that was acquired with the purchase of the 2,000 acres of property in 2016, PPR, which is the only privately owned landfill in the state, has already sunk at least $16.25M of taxpayers’ money into the incomplete construction of a landfill facility at the SW tip of Promontory Peninsula. 

The money was approved for construction of a Class I landfill in December 2016 by the Utah Private Activity Bond Authority (PAB) part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The bonding was issued by Box Elder County. It’s important to note that the PAB rejected PPR’s initial request for bonding authority for a Class V facility in its October 2016 meeting, which is curious because at that time PPR had not, in fact, submitted its application for a Class V Permit to the Division. As a result of the rejection, PPR modified and resubmitted its request to the PAB on December 6, 2016 for Class I bonding. The PAB approved the request in a 5-4 vote for an allocation of $16.25M to be issued through tax-exempt bonds. PPR is obligated to begin paying interest on those bonds in June 2018 – which is, like, tomorrow!

It’s no wonder that PPR wanted to test the waters with its request for funding a Class V Permit from the PAB because it already had the momentum to support that goal from the 2016 General Session of the Utah Legislature. On March 2016, a joint resolution (HJR 020) sponsored by Sen. Pete C. Knudson (Brigham City), and Rep. Lee B. Perry (Perry, UT) was approved to provide legislative endorsement for a Class V operation. “It would have a favorable economic impact on Box Elder County in the form of new permanent jobs and host fees.” A year later, in an article by Leia Larsen at the Standard Examiner, it appeared that Rep. Perry expressed some remorse about his impulsiveness to grease the skids on this idea. He said the measure was presented to him as an urgent matter, tied to an immediate economic opportunity. The article states that confusion about what type of waste would be accepted, where waste would come from and the depth of local support for – or opposition to – the project were essentially unheeded. Perry also said he wasn’t aware at the time that the company would pursue coal ash, incinerator ash, contaminated soil and industrial waste. It’s unfortunate for all of us that Rep. Perry chose not take more time to become better informed about this “opportunity” before jumping on the band wagon to endorse it. Alas!

On January 4, 2017, Brett Snelgrove, on behalf of Allos Environmental, the parent company of Promontory Point Resources, LLC, and a representative from TetraTech, the company overseeing the design of the landfill, made a presentation to the GSL Advisory Council about the Class I permitted facility. They talked about the design, economic viability, environmental controls, transportation of in-state waste to the site via the overland county road, and a modification of a permit that was on the verge of approval by the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control; a reference that remained unclear at that time. 

In addition to the $16.25M mentioned above, $20M in private equity capital had also been committed to the project. Among the project costs that must be considered before the facility can begin to operate i.e. receive waste, is a Division-approved bonding source to cover mitigation costs for clean up of any contamination incidents and/or if closure of the facility is left in the hands of the state. The Executive Director of the Department of Environmental Quality would be the designated trustee for this account. What’s concerning here is that the amount of money in the fund – only about $2M – would be woefully inadequate in the event that any of these scenarios occurred. And they may well occur: – existing science supports a compelling argument that impacts to Great Salt Lake are both probable and dangerous. 

PPR hoped to break ground on the Class I landfill by the end of February 2017 but it wasn’t until May when that happened. Since the presentation raised many questions from a packed room of attendees, the GSL Advisory Council (with one abstention from its Box Elder representative) unanimously agreed to send a letter to the Division expressing numerous concerns it had about the facility and its proximity to the Lake. 

Remember that among the many challenges with this business venture for PPR and its Class I Permit is that it can only take waste under contracts approved by the Division from local governments within the state. Currently, that market is already sewn up by 10 existing facilities within the state that have a collective life storage capacity of 363 years. And although PPR’s Class I Permit is up for renewal in 2021, that isn’t where the economic payback is going to come from for these private business partners. 

The real moneymaker seems to be in a Class V Permit on the assumption that it would give PPR some room to move in the marketplace. A Class V Permit would ramp up PPR as a commercial facility. It wouldn’t be limited in its scope of waste markets by having to secure Division-approved contracts. And it could take out of state waste like coal ash from California. It’s well established that coal ash is a hazardous waste. 

However, to facilitate this PPR says it would need a railroad spur on to the site from the UPRR causeway that crosses the Lake. This of course is a terrible idea and clearly untenable since it would entail the transport of potentially hazardous waste across the entire Lake, likely spreading contamination. Additionally, this prospect is overshadowed by the fact that there are already 10 Class V landfill facilities with a combined life storage capacity of more than 2,000 years in operation in Utah. You might think this would have raised question about PPR’s economic viability in the Utah marketplace. Nevertheless, in March 2017, PPR applied for a Class V Permit with the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control. 

When filing its application, PPR was required to include a Needs Assessment Report to justify the need for the facility. In July 2017, an independent third party review of the report identified numerous data gaps that had to be addressed before evaluation of the application could proceed.  A Needs Assessment Report Addendum was filed on December 20th. This time the third party review found that “it does not demonstrate the need for additional Class V landfill capacity in Utah, does not provide a robust market analysis, and has some remaining data gaps and therefore does not establish the need for the facility.” Back to the drawing board.

On January 9, 2018, a notice went out from the Division inviting public comment on a request from PPR for the installation and relocation of three down gradient monitoring wells. After review by PPR and its engineering and water consultants, it was noted that some of the wells proposed in the Class I Permit Modification (May 2016) were greater than 500 feet from the waste boundary. Down gradient monitoring wells are important for early detection of potential contamination pathways from the landfill into the surrounding water and landscape to avoid impacts. Why the initial location of the three down gradient monitoring wells were so off the mark to serve their objective is puzzling.

On February 14, 2018, the deadline for public comment, Western Resource Advocates submitted a letter to the Division on behalf of FRIENDS and Sierra Club expressing concerns about the subjectivity in the location of the monitoring wells and emphasized the need for better hydro-geologic data pertaining to the landfill and in order to protect groundwater from contamination. The letter included public comments that were submitted by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, Compass Minerals, and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College. All of the comments stressed concerns about the lack of groundwater data and the potential of groundwater flows from upland areas on Promontory Point to documented, proximal lakebed spring systems into this unique and significant ecosystem. Two days later, PPR withdrew its Class V Permit application “until further notice.”

So what does the square root of this information tell us? It tells us that

“Any miscalculation in design or engineering features that results in leaching, leaking, or catastrophic discharge of waste into Great Salt Lake will be highly consequential to the ecology and economic value of GSL. The history of coal ash disposal sites is replete with case studies of intentional, unintentional, and accidental discharge into surrounding terrestrial and aquatic systems causing acute and prolonged harm to aquatic organisms, populations, habitats and ecosystems.”*

Because the risks far outweigh the benefits for Utah’s economy and the long-term integrity of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem, if PPR changes its mind and reapplies for the Class V Permit, it should be denied.

In saline,


* From the whitepaper Risks to Biota and the Ecosystem of Great Salt Lake from the PPR with Particular Emphasis on Potential Harm to the Brine Shrimp (Artemia franciscana) Population, February 2018, written by Brad Marden, Parliament Fisheries,LLC on behalf of the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative.

SALT LAKE CITY – Governor Gary R. Herbert has declared May 2018 as the Month of the Bird in Utah. The declaration celebrates native and migratory birds making their way through Utah this time of year and the Beehive State’s remarkable landscapes and water resources that support them.the month of the bird in utah declaration may 2018 0

“May is a great month for residents and visitors to celebrate the important and inspirational role of birds that live in and migrate through our state. I want to thank National Audubon Society for their efforts in protecting birds and the places they need in Utah and beyond,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert.

A number of longstanding events providing educational and recreational birding opportunities occur in Utah every May, such as the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, now in its 20th year.

Home to 22 Important Bird Areas and more than 400 observed species, the Governor’s declaration recognizes that Utah’s natural resources provide important habitat for birds. Great Salt Lake and its wetlands, for instance, serve as an important breeding and stopover area for millions of migratory birds each year.

“The wonders of Great Salt Lake hold something for everyone. Seeing Killdeer around the shores of the lake takes me back to my childhood growing up on a farm in Delta - it was always my favorite bird,” said Michael Styler, executive director for Utah’s Department of Natural Resources. “The Department of Natural Resources, along with other local, state, and federal partners, conservation organizations, academia, and businesses, play important and shared roles in protecting Great Salt Lake for migratory birds.”

In addition to May as Month of the Bird in Utah, people around the world are celebrating 2018 as Year of the Bird. This year marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in the United States. In honor of this milestone, National Geographic, Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, and dozens of other partners around the world joined forces to celebrate 2018 as the Year of the Bird.

“Year of the Bird is an easy way people can take small everyday actions to help birds along their journeys,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO for National Audubon Society. “Utah is a critical stopover for birds like the Western Sandpiper that refuel at Great Salt Lake on their way to nest and raise their young in Alaska. We’d like to thank Governor Herbert for declaring May as Month of the Bird and recognizing the importance of birds and the places we share.”

Many conservation organizations, businesses and academics have been instrumental in protecting birds and the places they need in Utah. In celebrating May as the Month of the Bird and 2018 Year of the Bird, there is great appreciation for the efforts of many organizations, including local Audubon chapters, The Nature Conservancy in Utah, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, Great Salt Lake Institute (Westminster College), waterfowl associations and duck clubs, and many others.

Upcoming events include:

Congratulations to Katherine Barrett, University of Notre Dame, winner of the 2018 Doyle W. Stephens Scholarship for reasearch related to Great Salt Lake. 

Katherine Barrett will be awarded the $1,000 scholarship during the 2018 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum on May 10 at the Fort Douglas Officers Club on the campus of the Universtiy of Utah.

Kate.BridgerBay2017Barrett's project titled, Linking Artemia To the Benthos: Do Microbialites Support Brine Shrimp Production in Great Salt Lake?, explores the connections among the Great Salt Lake food chain. See below for her project description

PROJECT DESCRIPTION Despite covering at least 700 km2 in the south arm of Great Salt Lake (GSL), fundamental ecological understanding of microbialites, their associated brine fly populations, and interactions with brine shrimp, is in its nascent stages (Baskin 2014). Researchers have suggested that the benthic (brine fly) and pelagic (brine shrimp) food chains may be linked, and microbialites may be a critical component of brine shrimp cyst production. A long-term pelagic study has benefitted researchers and managers with an understanding of brine shrimp and phytoplankton dynamics in relationship to variable abiotic factors, but this dataset lacks a complementary benthic study (Belovsky et al. 2011). Without further information on the benthic food chain, the importance of pathways supporting brine shrimp production remains speculative. My proposed research, which involves field and laboratory studies, aims to identify microbialite communities and quantify their contribution as a food source to brine shrimp populations in GSL. Since the construction of a rock and gravel railroad causeway created a salinity gradient in GSL, my project will focus on the south arm because that is where brine flies, shrimp, and microbialites are biologically active.



Why We Care

  • It is a desert of water in a desert of salt and mud and rock, one of the most desolate and desolately beautiful of regions. Its sunsets, seen across water that reflects like polished metal, are incredible. Its colors are of a staring, chemical purity. The senses are rubbed raw by its moonlike horizons, its mirages, its parching air, its moody and changeful atmosphere.

    Wallace Stegner, "Dead Heart of the West" in American Places, 1981