ENVIRONMENT

Bill aimed at Great Salt Lake mineral extraction unanimously passes Utah House committee following heated discussion

Feb 9, 2024, 5:00 PM

Great Salt Lake shore...

Great Salt Lake brine shrimp fishermen 'optimistic' as yearly harvest begins. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A committee of Utah lawmakers has unanimously backed a major bill that would put limits on how much water mineral extraction companies can evaporate on Great Salt Lake.

HB 453, sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, would change some agreements between mineral extractors and the state, some of which have stood since the 1960s.

Snider presented the legislation to the House Business and Labor Committee on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Snider said as the law currently stands, companies, in theory, have the right to evaporate every drop of the Great Salt Lake.

Companies don’t use nearly that much water. But the goal is to have these companies, who are major water users in the Great Salt Lake Basin, follow similar rules and restrictions that have been placed on other users.

Great Salt Lake mineral extraction

According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, mineral extraction uses about 8% of the Great Salt Lake’s water, but, it’s far from the biggest user.

Nearly two-thirds of the upstream water is diverted for agriculture. Industrial and municipal use takes 18%. 9% goes to managed wetlands. 1% of the lake’s water evaporates.

The bill would also address standing royalty agreements between mineral companies and the state.

Snider said it also establishes a system where every drop of water headed to the Great Salt Lake is ‘colored’ or allocated for a purpose. So, once they learn what water is conserved to help the lake, that water cannot be used for any other purpose, including evaporation for mineral extraction.

Companies have been harvesting a variety of minerals from the Great Salt Lake’s brine for years, some of them, decades. This includes companies like Morton Salt, U.S. Magnesium and Compass Minerals.

The Great Salt Lake is also attracting new companies to its shores, given how valuable lithium has become in recent years.

A heated debate

The committee hearing saw several people comment, many mostly in favor of the bill.

A representative of U.S. Magnesium also came with a prepared statement. The representative said that they only had one issue they wanted addressed in the bill text. Otherwise, they appreciated the chance to collaborate.

Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz, who’s also a member of this committee, thanked U.S. Magnesium for collaborating.

However, Schultz later ended up in a tense back-and-forth with Todd Bingham, the head of the Utah Manufacturers Association.

Bingham spoke on behalf of several other mineral extraction companies. He claimed they had not had the chance to collaborate on the bill and how it would impact their business.

“I’ve reached out personally to the [bill] sponsor a number of times, and if I dare say in front of this group, he has never responded to me,” Bingham said. “We want to be involved in this dialogue…but, we [referring to the association, not the companies] need to be included.”

However, Schultz slammed that claim. He said he’d invited all the companies to collaborate as far back as July before he became House Speaker.

“[The companies] continue to throw out ‘concerns, concerns, concerns’ and stall… and never find a way to help us work together,” Schultz said. “I don’t think it’s fair, and it really frustrates me to be honest, that these companies haven’t engaged in a good faith negotiation.”

Ultimately, Shultz asked Bingham to refer his message to any absent companies and invite them to the table.

The bill now heads to the full Utah House for a vote.

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Bill aimed at Great Salt Lake mineral extraction unanimously passes Utah House committee following heated discussion