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Great Salt Lake Ecosystem

By the Numbers

  • 10: Number of regional organizations WRA represented successfully save the Great Salt Lake from mineral development
  • 46,000: Acres of the Great Salt Lake protected from mineral development
  • 4: Number of species of endangered fish protected in the Upper Colorado River Basin
  • 8,000: Acres of Great Salt Lake's Bear River Bay, some of the most important bird habitat in the America, protected from mining development
  • 353,000: Acre feet of water that will not be removed the Great Salt Lake ecosystem each year


Great Salt Lake Ecosystem

Great Salt Lake at sunset

One of Western Resource Advocates' core priorities is the protection and restoration of Utah's Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Great Salt Lake is of enormous national and international value, as it provides irreplaceable habitat for several million resident and migratory water birds, and is a major recreational attraction. However, the Lake's ecosystems are threatened both by new diversions from the freshwater streams that sustain it and from pollution being dumped directly into the Lake. WRA's Utah staff 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 these harmful activities and to develop comprehensive strategies that will protect this remarkable natural legacy.

WRA helps to avoid litigation by helping the conservation community to engage in the many processes that can lead to resource protection. We strengthen opportunities to build awareness within the agencies making decisions about the Great Salt Lake watershed, and are instrumental in proposing preemptive measures to the conservation community that help avoid escalating conflict. However, when litigation becomes necessary, we are there to get it done.

As part of our work to protect the greater Great Salt Lake ecosystem, we challenged an application that would withdraw an additional 140,000 acre feet of water from the already over-appropriated watershed. The Utah State Engineer rejected the application in part because it would adversely affect the environment and recreation - and was contrary to the public interest. The applicant appealed, WRA intervened, and the State Engineer's wise decision was upheld by the court. The applicant has appealed again, and we are now briefing and arguing this case before the Utah Supreme Court.

WRA intervened on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups in a case resolving disputes between the State of Utah and private landowners over ownership of lands around Utah Lake. The land at issue makes up some of Utah's most important fresh water wetlands. Allied with the State, we have helped advance the protection of much of this area.

      Great Salt Lake Minerals MapClick image for a large map
      of Great Salt Lake Minerals'
      proposed expansion.


    • Great Salt Lake Minerals is proposing to increase the size of their evaporative mining operation on the bed of Great Salt Lake by 91,000 acres. The company extracts potash and sulfate of potassium from the lake's waters. Great Salt Lake is very shallow, with a maximum depth of only 33ft., yet its elevation fluctuates depending on the inflow from a number of rivers that feed the lake. The expansion of the evaporation ponds would amount to covering almost 9% of the lake bed's surface area.
    • At the end of June, WRA"s Utah Office filed an Opening Brief with the Utah Supreme Court in Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, arguing that 15 conservation and recreation organizations have the right to administrative review of a Division decision allowing the industrial development of 33,000 acres of the bed of Great Salt Lake for mineral salts mining.  Previously, WRA's case survived a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.  However, rather than deciding whether it had jurisdiction, the Supreme Court put off the motion until the merits briefing a to make a decision on the matter. 
    • We submitted evidence on, and briefed our protest of, a water rights change application involving 49,000 acre feet of water for use in the current and proposed mineral salts mining operations on the bed of the Great Salt Lake.  Our experts argued that the complex hydrology of Bear River Bay would be upset by the use of this water to flush extremely concentrated salts from the mining company’s evaporation ponds, resulting in adverse consequences to the area’s rich bird life.
    • The Bear River Bay portion of Great Salt Lake is arguably the lake's most important habitat for millions of water and shorebirds. An area of the bay known as Willard Spur, adjacent to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, would suffer greatly reduced water quality should a processing plant come online and puts its discharge in to the bay. WRA is working with Utah state agencies to correct oversights concnerning the plants operations, protecting water quality in the bay.