SALT LAKE CITY -- Federal researchers plan to color the saline waters of the Great Salt Lake with a fluorescent red dye to study the spread of pollutants from nearby mining operations and sewage plants.
The non-toxic dye will be fed into a stream that enters the lake at its southern end. The tests will begin Tuesday if weather allows, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The USGS is working with state agencies to determine how pollutants disperse throughout the Great Salt Lake and how quickly they spread.
"By using low, non-hazardous concentrations of dye, we can identify exactly how and where potential pollutants will travel once they enter the lake," USGS research hydrologist David Naftz said. "Understanding the pathways and behavior of lake inputs will allow federal and state officials to better manage lake resources."
Industrial activities near the lake's southern shore discharge various contaminants into the waters, including selenium, which is toxic to wildlife. Among the companies with operations near the lake is Kennecott Copper, which is not participating in the study because the company believes there are better ways to study the water flow.
"We have not, nor will we, shy away from performing studies based on proven science on the lake," said Kyle Bennett, a spokesman for Kennecott. "We're not convinced that this is good science."
Because Kennecott discharges contaminants, the company should be participating instead of only relying on their own studies, said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.
"It's a missed opportunity," de Freitas said. "If anything, I would think Kennecott would be wanting to help facilitate this study. The USGS doesn't advocate, it just looks at what's going on and helps inform the rest of us."
The red dye, Rhodamine WT, has been used in similar studies for decades. The movement of the dye will be tracked to determine the presence and concentration of the substance as it dissipates in the lake.