OGDEN — Miranda Menzies, of Eden, likes to admire the sunset from a rowboat on Great Salt Lake, and because she’d rather not have an oil derrick blocking her view, she’s interested in how Utah manages the lake.
Because of that, she was at Wednesday’s final public presentation of a new management plan for Great Salt Lake that will guide dozens of governmental and private entities for at least the next decade.
While not completely satisfied, she said, she’s glad to see the effort and glad to see the nuance applied to that management going forward.
The presentation by Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands was to show the public the final version of the state’s Comprehensive Management Plan for Great Salt Lake.
Dozens of governmental and private entities and businesses have operations on the lake, study it or help manage it.
Forestry, Fire and State Lands coordinates them all, because it has legal authority over all sovereign state lands, including the land the lake sits on.
The lake is a tricky thing to manage, because it doesn’t stay at one level. It has no outlet, so it rises and falls depending on how much water flows into it.
That water flow depends on both nature and human use. The Comprehensive Management Plan, now up for final adoption in May, manages use of the lake, but with a twist.
Unlike the last plan, which was adopted in 2000, the new one takes different lake levels into consideration. Mineral extraction that works when the lake is 4,208 feet above sea level, for example, doesn’t work when the level drops to 4,193 or lower.
Different levels of salt content in the lake water control the success of the multimillion-dollar brine shrimp industry.
Laura Ault, program manager for the division, said that has forced the state to figure out how to manage the lake at all different levels.
Laura Vernon, SWCA Environmental Consultants, who contracted with the state to draw up the plan, said the 2000 plan was outmoded for a number of other reasons. There has been extensive new research on the environmental conditions in the lake and the impact they have on its economic use.
There’s also more awareness of the need to manage the lake to be sustainable, she said.
That means there are more controls than in the past. Vast areas of the lake that were open for leasing under the 2000 plan, for example, now face restrictions based on lake level.
The new plan also gives the state the ability to coordinate different agencies when their use or management of parts of the lake intersect.
The public has 45 days to comment on the final plan, ending April 26. Ault said comments will only be considered if they both state a problem and propose a solution.
During the presentation, Shirley Gorospe, of West Jordan, asked about lake levels in Gunnison Bay being low while evaporation ponds operated by Great Salt Lake Minerals near Ogden are not.
Gorospe is making a documentary film on Great Salt Lake, focusing on expansion of evaporation ponds by Great Salt Lake Minerals, which is in Weber County.
GSL Minerals mines the lake for sulfate of potash to make fertilizer and is working to expand its extensive network of evaporation ponds.
“It’s really sad when you fly over the lake and the water’s not in Gunnison Bay and it’s in the evaporation ponds,” Gorospe said.
Ault said those variances are a result of the natural rise and fall of the lake. Several entities impound water, she said, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
Menzies said her concern was leases for various industries on the lake, some of which go back to the 1960s.
The Great Salt Lake Rowing Club is interested in the master plan “because the people that are rowing felt that there are so few of us that we have to speak out,” she said.
“The piece that I’m concerned about is, they acknowledge that through their management practices, they change the lake level,” she said of the state.
She asked Ault how long oil and mineral leases on the lake last. Ault said some of them, written in the 1960s and before, are “in perpetuity” and don’t change even as lake levels change.
Under the new management plan, Ault said, new leases will reflect differing lake levels. As old leases come up for renewal, some of them can also be changed.
Despite that, she said, she expected companies on the lake to work with Utah to keep the lake healthy.
“None of the operators want anything catastrophic to go on at the lake,” Ault said. “That doesn’t benefit them.”
Dave Hyams, spokesman for Great Salt Lake Minerals, said his company appreciates the balance of the new plan.
GSL Minerals is criticized by environmentalists for using large sections of the lake for its mineral extraction, but Hyams said the company is also a large jobs provider in Utah that makes a product critical for farmers.
“And we know if we have to take a hit when the lake goes down, we will,” he said.
“That’s part of the deal.”
About the plan
There is a 45-day comment period, ending April 26, for final changes. Final adoption is scheduled in May.