Protecting the Great Salt Lake

Rob Dubuc “We are privileged to be working to safeguard one of the most important lakes in the nation and know that our efforts will help ensure that Great Salt Lake and its birds will be preserved for future generations.” – Rob Dubuc, Staff Attorney, Utah Office

Great Salt Lake Is A National Treasure That Faces Many Threats

The Great Salt Lake – three to five times saltier than the ocean – is a national icon, providing essential habitat to 7.5 million birds each year and enriching residents and visitors alike who cherish the Lake for its recreational opportunities and beautiful vistas. Lying at the base of Utah’s most densely populated area, Great Salt Lake is continually under threat from human activity and drought.

The amazing abundance of bird life at Great Salt Lake has earned the Lake’s designation as a “Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve.” Birds of regional, national and international significance are drawn to its 1,700 square miles of various water environments, remote islands and shorelines, and about 400,000 acres of wetlands. Every year 7.5 million birds of 257 different species rely on Great Salt Lake to nest, breed and feast during migrations of a thousand miles or more. The diverse water environments also are excellent habitats for innumerable plants and other wildlife. The Lake also generates billions of dollars each year in economic activity, such as duck hunting, bird watching, and brine shrimp harvesting.

Here are some of the major threats to Great Salt Lake:

  • A growing population spurring new suburban development and plans for highways on the shores of the Lake;
  • Diversions of water out of the Lake and the rivers and streams that flow into it;
  • A proposed dam on the Bear River that would reduce water flows into Great Salt Lake;
  • Water pollution from mining operations, municipal runoff, sewage discharge and other industries; and,
  • Continued expansion of mineral extraction industries on the Lake.

Western Resource Advocates Works to Preserve the Irreplaceable Great Salt Lake

Western Resource Advocates preserves the irreplaceable Great Salt Lake by keeping the lakebed and wetlands free of development, stopping water pollution, and working to keep Great Salt Lake healthy. We promote and implement scientific research to better understand Great Salt Lake and ensure we are addressing the most pressing threats to its health. We work with state and federal agencies to preserve Great Salt Lake, while supporting flourishing communities and a robust economy. Western Resource Advocates works through collaborative, administrative and legal processes to put solutions in place for a variety of community members and to maintain a vibrant Great Salt Lake for future generations.

Western Resource Advocates works in close collaboration with groups such as FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, the Utah Wetlands Foundation, Great Salt Lake Audubon, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and others to minimize harmful activities and to develop comprehensive strategies that will protect this remarkable natural legacy.

Specific Projects We Are Working On:

  • Stopping Huge Water Diversions from the Lake into Mining Operations. Currently, 172,000 acres of Great Salt Lake have been diked and there are plans to develop an additional 70,000 acres for mining operations. The mining companies draw huge quantities of water out of the Great Salt Lake into vast reservoirs to evaporate the water, leaving behind minerals. Already our work has helped keep 353,000 acre feet of water in Great Salt Lake. As water levels get lower and the mining companies continue to pull water from the Lake, wildlife habitat is dewatered, recreation is obstructed, and the winds blow dust up from the exposed lake bed, creating air pollution. Western Resource Advocates is continuing our efforts to reduce existing water withdrawals and stop new diversions of water and has initiated an effort to create a dedicated conservation pool of water to remain in Great Salt Lake.
  • Protecting the Lake from Compass Minerals’ Plans to Expand into Wetlands and Mudflats: Compass Minerals is a mining company that currently operates on 43,000 acres of the bed of Great Salt Lake. The company is planning to expand its facilities by 70,000 acres, a plan that would industrialize shorebird habitat and take even more water out of Great Salt Lake. Already our work has helped convince the company to reduce the size of its project and keep it out of the most sensitive part of the Lake – Bear River Bay. However, we are continuing our efforts to protect these wetlands and mudflats from development.
  • Changing the Railroad’s Bridge Plans that Would Disrupt the Exchange of Salts and Minerals, Harming Fish and Wildlife. A railroad causeway separates the north and south arms of Great Salt Lake and inhibits the flow of minerals and salts between the two parts of the Lake; this exchange of minerals and salts is important for fish and wildlife. The railroad is proposing to make changes to its causeway that could further impede circulation of these minerals between the two parts of the Lake, thereby threatening brine shrimp, birds, wildlife and the natural areas wildlife depend upon. We are working to shape the design of the new bridge so that it would actually enhance the water quality and salt balance, and help wildlife of the two arms of the Lake.
  • Enforcing the Clean Water Act to Prevent More Pollution in the Lake. To protect Great Salt Lake we must protect water quality. Several industries are perched on its shores, discharging pollution into its waters. Our work has led to a 1.5 million dollar scientific study to ensure that discharge from a sewage treatment plant would not impair the most productive wetland on the Lake. We will continue to enforce the Clean Water Act to prevent new and reduce existing discharges of pollution and require rigorous monitoring and reporting of all allowed discharges.
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Project Staff

Rob Dubuc

Rob Dubuc

Staff Attorney, Utah Office

Joro Walker

General Counsel