Oil spotted in Great Salt Lake wetlands

Published June 15, 2010 10:21 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Crude oil from the Red Butte Creek pipeline spill appears to have turned up in the Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Though a spokesman from Chevron rejected any "linkage" between the weekend spill and sheens that have turned up in the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area at the lake's southeastern edge, unprecedented petro-glosses have surfaced there since Saturday.

That's when the Davis County Health Department and the wildlife area manager set absorbent booms on the water to protect the wetlands along with families of mallard, redhead and cinnamon teal ducks now nesting in the marshes.

"I'm interested to see what the third-party testing shows," said Rich Hansen, manager of the 12,000-acre sanctuary, who added no harmful impact has been detected.

Also on Tuesday, Salt Lake County closed the Jordan River (not the trail) to public use while crews collect and monitor the oil. The closure -- from 1300 South to 500 North -- remains in place until further notice at Salt Lake City's request.

About a dozen Chevron workers trekked through west-side neighborhoods along the Jordan on Tuesday evening, handing out fliers urging them to stay out of the river in the area.

"We take seriously our commitment to residents," Mayor Ralph Becker said, "to see that our city's unique riparian corridor is restored to its original state."

Officials also

said they so far have collected 21,000 gallons of the estimated 33,000 gallons of spilled oil.

Federal, state and local agencies are scheduled to huddle today to discuss how to proceed with cleaning the oiled streambeds and backyards along the Red Butte Creek corridor and at Liberty Park's pond. And tallying the cleanup costs and damage to homes, wildlife and the 20-mile stretch of stream and river is ongoing.

Hansen drove to the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area area Saturday morning as soon as he heard about the spill on the other side of the valley. He thought about how Red Butte Creek feeds into the Jordan River, which in turn drains into the Great Salt Lake wetlands.

He wondered if oil would blanket the marshes and coat the birds and chicks in it -- nothing short of a disaster scenario for millions of migratory birds and the habitat they depend, and for the people who look to the lake for respite, recreation and, in the case of brine shrimpers, their livelihoods.

Instead, Hansen found the rainbow sheen -- far bigger than the gas- or oil-stained runoff that periodically stains the wetlands.

"If that is indeed oil from that spill, all I can say is that we've got it pretty well contained," he said. "It seems the booms are doing their jobs."

Hansen said a Chevron official told him late Tuesday that the company's tests had showed the sheen was unrelated to the crude oil that leaked from a ruptured pipe near Red Butte Garden.

Reports that the lakeside sheen came from the pipeline spill are "just false," Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said. He added that the Jordan River "is exposed to lots of things" and there was no proof the oil in the lake's wetlands had come from Red Butte.

Lewis Garrett, director of the Davis County Health Department, agreed that he had no water-quality test results proving the spill had produced the sheen. The timing prompted his conclusion.

Still, he said, whether there is a connection is irrelevant since the sheen poses no threat to people, the wildlife or the wetlands.

"We're swinging at gnats here."


Tribune reporter Mike Gorrell contributed to this story.

Water poses no 'immediate threat'

Samples taken from Red Butte Creek and the Jordan River after the weekend oil spill indicate the tainted water is not "an immediate threat to human health and aquatic life," state water-quality officials reported Tuesday.

Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said a dozen samples examined by the Utah Department of Health's Unified State Lab suggest the spilled crude oil no longer poses a significant health threat to people or aquatic life. Benzene, toluene and other toxic constituents of crude oil largely have evaporated.

"Those are the ones most harmful to humans and aquatic wildlife," he said, noting that levels detected were lower than what his office expected to see. "Now we need to start drilling down deeper."

That means even more detailed testing to determine the extent of contamination from other oil components and the potential long-term environmental impacts.

Baker said the samples were taken from Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park pond and the Jordan River.

Water-quality inspectors also took another set of samples late Monday at these and other locations and sent those results to a commercial lab, he added. Those results are expected today.

Mike Gorrell and Judy Fahys

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