Great Salt Lake is one of Utah's priceless treasures. This saline lake, the largest remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, is perhaps the state's least understood and most neglected natural feature.
Shallow, salty, the terminus of three rivers the ebb and flow of the lake's waters creates an ever-changing environment. Stark, beautiful, and mysterious, it has no equal in the world. Yet the complex interplay of factors affecting the lake has made protection of its waters, aquatic life, and shorebird habitat extremely challenging.
To address these challenges, the Utah Division of Water Quality has developed the Great Salt Lake Water Quality Strategy. This strategy seeks to shed light on the forces at work in the lake and provide management tools to preserve the waters, wetlands and ecology of the lake.
The lake's location along the heavily populated Wasatch Front has resulted in intense pressure on its resources, raising concerns about the sustainability of the lake ecosystem. A wide range of stakeholders, from bird-watchers to industry, support the development of management strategies to protect this unique aquatic environment.
Filling the current knowledge gaps and determining the appropriate level of water quality protection will help improve biological conditions and create greater certainty for enterprises that require a permit for operations that impact the lake.
Great Salt Lake is an important stop for migratory birds, with up to 12 million birds visiting the lake each year. Eighty percent of Utah's wetlands are located along the lake's shoreline, which provide critical wildlife habit and productive areas for waterfowl hunters. Brine shrimp and brine flies depend on its waters.
Salinity levels in the lake range from seven times greater than ocean water to fresh water. The lake supplies mineral and aquaculture resources and sustains recreational activities that together pump $1.32 billion into the economy.
Our division is responsible for protecting the beneficial uses of the lake and all Utah waters. We maintain water quality so the duck hunter in hip waders, the child floating on her back at Antelope Island, and the brine shrimper pulling in his catch can be confident that the waters of Great Salt Lake meet appropriate standards so their interests and livelihood can be preserved and sustained.
We currently rely on narrative standards to safeguard water quality standards which describe conditions to avoid (die-off of aquatic vegetation) or undesirable activities (dumping trash). But we also need numeric standards that identify the allowable quantitative levels of pollutants that may be present in the water to adequately safeguard water quality in the lake. It is difficult to fully protect the lake absent numeric criteria. That is why establishing criteria is so important.
Key resource issues in this strategy include numeric criteria development, strategic monitoring and research, and a wetlands plan. Our public outreach program will facilitate feedback during implementation of core components. This strategy is designed to combine the best available science with public participation and outreach.
We want to hear from you. We will be hosting an open house from 3-6 p.m. on June 19 in the Department of Environmental Quality Board Room, 195 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City. If you would like to learn more about the strategy or comment on it, please visit our website at http://www.waterquality.utah.gov/greatsaltlake.
Help us preserve the exceptional qualities that make the Great Salt Lake a refuge for birds during their migratory journeys, a sanctuary of wonder for visitors, and a vital part of the state's economy. We look forward to hearing from you.
Walt Baker is the director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.