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SALT LAKE CITY — In a departure from the usual accusations and litigation, 10 environmental advocacy and special interest groups have come together with big industry to reach an agreement on a water quality monitoring plan.
The Great Salt Lake compromise announced this week is being lauded as a collaborative effort reached between the groups and Great Salt Lake Minerals (GSL) on monitoring what the company is returning to the lake when it flushes its fields of evaporation ponds.
Dave Hyams, GSL spokesman, said while sampling and measuring that discharge was already happening, the information will now be compiled in a Sample and Analysis Plan available for review by state water quality regulators and advocates.
"We're doing what we have always done, but the state and (Friends of the Great Salt Lake) will join in the monitoring to make sure it is all fine," he said.
The compromise was negotiated by attorneys with Western Resource Advocates on behalf of Friends of Great Salt Lake, the Utah Mud Motor Association, the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club and seven other groups who challenged a permit issued by the state to GSL in 2010.
In its operations that involve the harvest of 6 million tons of salt and 1.5 million tons of minerals, GSL empties its ponds at the end of the year of any unused material collected from the lake.
The discharge permit lacked any monitoring component, which brought objections from environmental groups.
"Maybe they knew what they were doing, but nobody else did," said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake. "What's happening with this compromise is that all of us will have a better understanding of what is actually happening in the system when minerals are returned to the lake."
The adoption of a sampling plan by GSL involves ongoing collection of mineral samples by the company as well as the state Division of Water Quality.
Hyams said scientists drop a monitoring buoy near the discharge point and at other locations to compare the mineral concentrations, flow of water, salinity and other characteristics.
"It involves everything about the process and comparing it to other points in the lake," he said. "We'll look to see what impact, if any, there is from this process."
Hyams added he believes the compromise may be a harbinger of an expanded level of cooperation between the industry and watchdog organizations.
"What it comes down to for us is we have worked with stakeholders in our expansion plans, it is better to work together than fight," he said. "And this is a step, perhaps a first step, of being able to work together. We have been adversaries for a lot of years on a lot of different issues regarding our operation on the lake."