Groundwater Protection
2018 State of the Environment Report (WQ)

Nathan Hall, DEQ district engineer, tests groundwater in a neighborhood outside Roosevelt, Utah.
Nathan Hall, DEQ district engineer, tests groundwater in a neighborhood outside Roosevelt, Utah.

The Groundwater Protection Section administers two primary programs to protect the quality of Utah’s groundwater resources:

  • Federal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program
  • State Groundwater Quality Protection Program

The UIC Program protects underground sources of drinking water by reviewing and approving numerous small-scale injection activities such as stormwater dry wells, groundwater remediation wells, and domestic underground drain fields.

The Groundwater Quality Protection Program protects groundwater by issuing permits to agricultural and industrial waste management units that have the potential to discharge pollutants into groundwater. The two primary elements of groundwater discharge permits are:

  • Best available technology to minimize subsurface discharge
  • Compliance monitoring for groundwater quality

Success Story: US Magnesium Groundwater Discharges

US Magnesium produces magnesium metal and chlorine byproducts from concentrated Great Salt Lake brine. Wastewater from the various processes used in the manufacture is highly acidic (low pH) and contains chlorinated hydrocarbons and other organic compounds. This wastewater is currently stored in two diked, unlined impoundments for disposal through evaporation. Dissolution of the carbonate-containing sediments underlying the impoundments has resulted in leaks of wastewater outside the pond dikes.

US Magnesium

For the past several years, the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR), Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control (DWMRC), and DWQ have been coordinating with EPA Region 8, Friends of the Great Salt Lake, and US Magnesium to resolve longstanding soil and wastewater contamination issues at the Rowley, Utah, production site on the western shores of the Great Salt Lake. Resolution of the contamination issues has been particularly difficult and subject to more than a decade of legal arguments.

DWQ took a measured enforcement action by issuing a Letter of Violation (45.41 KB) following reports from EPA of containment-system breaches that had the potential to impact the Great Salt Lake, along with evidence of unpermitted groundwater discharges. This prompted action and a response (45.41 KB) from US Magnesium, including stabilization of the existing impoundment and application for a groundwater discharge permit (9.89 MB).

The discharge permit is important for resolving violations at the facility under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). US Magnesium will continue to operate, but ongoing investigations and facility monitoring will be necessary. The permit, issued in November 2018, requires US Magnesium to upgrade the existing impoundment through the construction of a subsurface barrier wall to provide control and containment of both surface and subsurface discharges. The initial version of the permit will impose conditions on US Magnesium to ensure that existing facilities, primarily the two diked evaporation ponds, are operated in a manner to minimize potential discharges to surface water. As compliance schedule items are completed, the permit will be modified to reflect better knowledge of site conditions, regulate the operation of new containment facilities, and monitor their performance.

DWQ’s work with other divisions at DEQ, EPA, and US Magnesium led to the issuance of a groundwater permit that will eventually minimize the discharge of wastewater to groundwater and prevent harm to the ecology of the Great Salt Lake.