Milo Emilia: Time to start thinking differently about Great Salt Lake

U.S. Magnesium’s plan to draw more water from the lake is a bad idea.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The US Magnesium dike north of Stansbury Island on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

Great Salt Lake is d(r)ying because too much water is being taken. Unfortunately, some people in our community think we can continue operating under business as usual.

Reaching for more water, U.S. Magnesium, a shoreline extractor, recently applied for a permit from the Utah Division of Water Quality to extend two of its intake canals in Gilbert Bay on Great Salt Lake. The lake level is so low that, for the first time in decades, they can no longer reach the water from which they normally extract magnesium and other minerals.

In a typical year, this single company diverts more water from Great Salt Lake than Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo combined, pulling on average 100,000 gallons of water per minute. They are notoriously one of the worst polluters in the country - think Superfund site, pools filled with acid, and thousands of acres of land contaminated by millions of pounds of chlorine.

The Utah Division of Water Quality has issued a draft permit that claims this project won’t have a negative impact on water quality and will allow U.S. Magnesium to dredge more than 100 acres of lake body to bleed precious water into toxic evaporation ponds.

We have a unique opportunity. The inertia of U.S. Magnesium’s continued assault on the lake is slowing, for a moment, and there is space to determine whether we will move in the direction of life and a healthy Great Salt Lake, or if we will allow this corporation to continue barreling us toward our own destruction.

For too long, the dominant relationship with Great Salt Lake has been one of disconnection and exploitation. Industry and municipalities have been able to use and abuse the lake, and now, as the lake dries, the pollutants dumped in the water for the past century are turning into toxic dust. On the brink of this public health and ecological crisis, we must shift our culture and how we relate to Great Salt Lake.

It’s important to remember that we are intertwined with one another and other beings and the land we inhabit. Lack of loving connection and cultural fixation on accumulation make it easy to forget. Now is the time to start thinking differently and changing the way we make decisions. The myth of endless expansion and extraction has brought the lake to their deathbed. The dust being unveiled by the shrinking shoreline is our teacher.

Great Salt Lake, the most powerful player in this game, has said no more and put a stop to U.S. Magnesium’s extraction. It is up to us to listen to this clear call and ensure no more water is taken to be evaporated away, polluted, and turned over for the profit of billionaires and the military industrial complex. The time of extractors hiding behind veils of smog is over. This pause in inertia is a gift given to us by the lake to come together and make a loving choice. It is a first step in eliminating U.S. Magnesium from the shoreline.

Listen to what the lake has to say. Gather your communities and dream together what a healthy, interdependent future can look like in this valley. Attend the public hearing on October 19th at 6 p.m. at the State of Utah Multiagency Office Building and/or submit a public comment by October 27 demanding the state not issue a permit so clearly at odds with life.

Milo Emilia

Milo Emilia, Salt Lake City, is co-creator of lake words, a small and mighty book of poetry and prose about Great Salt Lake.