The Utah Division of Water Quality has begun a long-term project to set new pollution standards for the Great Salt Lake. The lake contains significant levels of toxic pollutants such as arsenic, lead, selenium and mercury, among other things. Jeff Ostermiller, the chief of the Water Quality Management Section at the division, says some of that comes from industries surrounding the lake. But he says there are many other sources as well, including urban runoff from streets along the Wasatch Front.
"Much of our wastewater ultimately ends up in the Great Salt Lake," says Ostermiller. "We have atmospheric deposition from air pollution, potentially. But we have no idea how much the lake can sustain before reaching a tipping point, say, where we can no longer sustain the aquatic organisms, the millions of birds using the lake, the brine shrimp and the brine shrimp industry."
Gathering brine shrimp eggs from the lake surface is a multi-million dollar industry in Utah, but extracting minerals from the lake is worth as much as a billion dollars a year.
The division is seeking public input on its strategy for setting specific new pollution standards for the lake.