Jed Boal ReportingThe ball is rolling for an ambitious plan to clean up polluted water underneath the Salt Lake Valley. The state, Kennecott Copper, and Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District signed an agreement on one of the largest groundwater clean-up projects in country.
A massive, 50 square mile, underground plume of contaminated water is steadily spreading under the valley floor. For decades, storm water ran across Kennecott Copper mines and washed away sulfates and other heavy metals. Today that storm water is trapped in leak-proof reservoirs, but until the 1990's, it leaked into the groundwater.
After 20 years of studies and legal battles, a $104 million cleanup is ready to go.
Dianne Neilson, Natural Resource Damage Trustee: “It's not surprising it's taken this long. We're very anxious now to implement it and see the improvement in groundwater cleanup."
Environmentalists are glad the project is moving.
Jeff Salt, Great Salt Lake-keeper: “If we're not proactive now, that contaminated plume under the ground is going to migrate and contaminate the Jordan River. Then we have a bigger problem, harder to clean up."
Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District will pump out the water, filter it, and use it for drinking water in the affected area. Kennecott pays the tab with Jordan Valley paying for the distribution lines.
Environmental watchdogs call it a good plan, but the concentration of minerals filtered out has to go somewhere. The options? Into the tailings ponds or into the Great Salt Lake.
Jeff Salt: “We should really be looking at how do we clean up pollution and actually clean it up and resolve the problem, so it's not just a problem for future generations."
The project trustee says they'll keep an eye on that issue.
Dianne Neilson: “We'll all remain involved in this project as it moves forward, to make sure we achieve the goal of cleaning up the ground water and protecting the environment."
Some of the work is already done, but a pipeline will be built to connect the Jordan Valley system and begin delivering drinking water by early 2006.
Another outstanding issue is, what's he effect of pumping so much groundwater over a 40-year period? The partnership in the project will monitor the impact.