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Controversy winds down on groundwater cleanup plan in SW Salt Lake Valley

Published June 18, 2013 12:20 am

Environment • West Jordan plant to pump treated effluent into the Great Salt Lake.
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The public dialogue about a new drinking-water treatment plant is winding down after a decade of controversy.

State water-quality officials hosted a question-and-answer session Monday, followed by a public hearing, on their plans to give final approval for the Southwest Groundwater Treatment Plant in West Jordan. It will treat groundwater that has been contaminated by mining in nearby Bingham Canyon. The plant will provide drinking water for Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District customers and pump the tainted leftovers into the Great Salt Lake.

With the public comment period closing on June 28, quarreling about the plant and its discharge appears likely to end for now.

"We appreciate [Division of Water Quality's] willingness to take a conservative approach to ascertaining impacts from the Jordan Valley discharge," said Lynn de Freitas, director of the conservation group Friends of the Great Salt Lake and the only person who commented during a brief hearing Monday. "This is the type of approach we would like the agency to take with all discharges into the lake."

The $24 million plant was completed over a year ago. And workers expect within a month to finish rebuilding a broken 7-mile section of the 21-mile pipe that will carry heavy metals and salt waste from the plant to the lake for disposal.

Alan Packard, assistant general manager and chief engineer for the water district, said all that's needed is a permit from the state Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands to run a 1,000-foot pipe over a state-owned right of way.

The water district secured a permit in 2003 but handed it back to the Utah Division of Water Quality after a public outcry over potential impacts in the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake.

The agency has fielded around 150 pages of comments from the public, government agencies and others concerned about the plan. It created a water-quality standard for the lake — the lake's first — one that limits the amount of selenium that can be found in the eggs of birds that nest on the lake to help address some of those concerns.

The new plant uses reverse osmosis to capture mining-related pollutants in the groundwater at the southwestern corner of the Salt Lake Valley. The new discharge permit also requires environmental testing to measure the effluent's impacts on the water, the sediment, birds and brine shrimp.

The remediation is part of an agreement with federal and state regulators and Kennecott Utah Copper that will yield roughly 14 million gallons of drinking water after the removal of dissolved salts, toxic mercury and selenium.

fahys@sltrib.com

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Your input

Written comments about the Southwest Groundwater Treatment Plant can be submitted to: Kim Shelley, P.O. Box 144870, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4870 or by email at kshelley@utah.gov.