Great Salt Lake Minerals Corp. (GSL) of Ogden has significantly altered its plans for an expansion originally unveiled in 2009. The new plan, as submitted to government governing bodies for approval, dramatically reduces the scope of development, consisting primarily of expansion of the firm’s solar evaporation pond system. The lead agency reviewing GSL’s application is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the process also involves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Utah state regulatory agencies.
Since 1970, GSL has been extracting potassium sulfate from the Great Salt Lake through a natural evaporation process in massive ponds excavated along the shore of the lake. Also know as sulfate of potash (SOP), the substance is used as a crop nutrient by farmers. GSL is the only domestic producer of the product, used in the cultivation of fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Potassium sulfate occurs naturally in the lake and is in high demand because it does not contain the chlorides present in other potash fertilizers and helps grow plants that are naturally disease, pest and drought resistant. At current production capacity, GSL will not be able to meet projected future demand and therefore needs room to grow.
“This new plan will allow us to meet the needs of American farmers, create new jobs to strengthen Utah’s economy, provide millions of dollars in new revenue to the state and sustain the lake’s unique ecology,” said Corey Milne, director of advanced manufacturing technology for GSL.
The primary change from the 2009 plan is a reduction in the requested area for new ponds from 90,000 acres to 52,000 acres. Part of the reduction includes 8,000 acres originally sought by GSL in Bear River Bay. The elimination of the Bear River Bay request preserves high-value avian sanctuaries. No development is now expected in the bay.
In addition to the reduction in its land request, GSL has also withdrawn a request for 353,000 acre feet per year of water rights from the Great Salt Lake. New process efficiencies will also allow the company to return unused minerals to the lake more quickly that it has done historically. The changes will help retain water levels and reduce the impact on the lake’s ecological balance.
According to the company, the changes in the expansion plan came about for three reasons. Primarily, efficiencies that are the result of technology advances that reduce the amount of water — and therefore the number of ponds — have reduced the required size of the evaporative processes. The company also credits further study of the ecology of the lake and discussions with lakeshore stakeholders, including environmental groups, as impetus behind the altered plan.
“We studied, we listened, we collaborated, and we changed our plan accordingly,” said Milne. “Today we are submitting a plan that will produce the crop nutrients that America’s food growers need, benefit Utah’s economy, and is sustainable for the lake’s ecology.”
Another element of the new proposal is GSL’s agreement to build out the expansion in incremental phases, with state and federal agency review between stages. The first stage will include 10,000 acres of new ponds on the remote west side of the lake adjacent to existing ponds and 14,000 acres of new ponds nearby but away from the lake. The total expansion process will take up to 30 years; subsequent phases will go forward only if specific environmental criteria are met.
“By developing new solar evaporation ponds incrementally with environmental safeguards along the way, we can maintain the lake ecology and deliver enough SOP to meet future demand from America’s food growers,” said Milne. “This approach is good for Utah and delivers the nutrients that farmers need.”