The Great Salt Lake provides a unique ecosystem found nowhere else in the United States. It is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, and one of a handful of terminal lakes in the world. The lake boasts a rich ecosystem that supports a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic life and serves as critical habitat for resident and migratory birds.
The ecological diversity of 1,700-square-mile lake, from its highly saline North Arm to its freshwater Farmington Bay, provides food for the more than 7.5 million birds who stop there during their migration along the Pacific Flyway or make the lake their home. The lake also provides enormous economic benefit to the state, contributing over $1 billion a year to the economy from lake-based industrial and recreational activities.
The unique qualities that make the Great Salt Lake (GSL) ecologically and economically significant also present considerable challenges for its protection. DWQ developed a Great Salt Lake Water Quality Strategy in response to these challenges. The Strategy was officially launched in 2014. The division worked with stakeholders for two years to develop a comprehensive water-quality strategy to address the lake’s unique needs and characteristics, fill critical knowledge gaps, improve management decisions, and reduce regulatory uncertainty.
The strategy consists of five core components:
- Aquatic Life Numeric Criteria for Priority Pollutants (788 KB)
- Strategic Monitoring and Research (1.61 MB)
- Wetland Program Plan
- Nutrient Assessment Plan
- Recreational Use Numeric Criteria
These core components will help DWQ develop numeric water-quality criteria to protect aquatic life and recreational uses, improve water-quality monitoring, prioritize research, implement monitoring and assessment plans for wetlands, and assess the impacts of nutrient loading on water quality.
Since adoption of the plan, DWQ has made considerable progress in implementing the Strategy. Accomplishments to date include:
- Implementation of a Great Salt Lake (GSL) monitoring program
- Initial steps in the development of numeric criteria for priority pollutants
- Implementation of an interim discharge-permitting program to protect the lake’s water quality while standards are developed
Current objectives for the strategy include the development of the wetland and nutrient- assessment components of the strategy. DWQ activities in support of those objectives include:
- Acute-toxicity testing for brine shrimp and brine flies for lead, copper, and arsenic. The initial round of testing has helped the division develop a repeatable process for testing acute and chronic responses of GSL biota to other potential pollutants and will form the basis for Gilbert Bay aquatic life water-quality criteria.
- Aggregation of DWQ and collaborator data into a unified dataset and development of an interactive web app to analyze, visualize, and assess GSL water-quality data
- Development of a GSL nutrient budget. This has included the development of a system to query relevant data and calculate GSL nutrient loads and pools as well as efforts to collaborate with other agencies and stakeholders to begin filling data gaps.
Great Salt Lake Wetlands
In Spring 2018, DWQ held Conservation Action Planning (CAP) meetings with wetlands stakeholders to gather information on their priorities for developing water-quality standards for the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake. The division also held CAP meetings with Willard Spur stakeholders (1.22 MB) to wrap-up years of research for the Willard Spur project.
DWQ received a $221,000 Wetland Program Development Grant from the EPA in 2018 to develop wetland monitoring around the Great Salt Lake. The money will be used to install high-frequency monitoring probes and conduct condition assessments in the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake.