A trove of lithium in Great Salt Lake is turning heads. Managers drafting rules to protect the water

May 17, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: May 28, 2024, 9:10 am

great salt lake shown, lithium in the lake is attracting companies...

Only about a year and a half removed from hitting its lowest level in recorded history, the Great Salt Lake has reached its highest level since 2017.(Adam Small/KSL NewsRadio)

(Adam Small/KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — With a steady demand for electric vehicles and other rechargeable batteries, Utah’s famous inland sea could soon become a major hub for lithium production.

The Great Salt Lake is home to a lot of different minerals, some of which are predominately only gathered from its waters.

While there are several other major lithium sources in the United States, the Great Salt Lake’s supply hasn’t been fully tapped into because of the lake’s recent lower water levels.

Longstanding mineral companies operating on the Great Salt Lake have largely relied on using evaporation ponds to extract what they’re looking for. But some, such as California-based Lilac Solutions, want to use new technology to extract the lithium and put every drop of water right back into the lake.

But to be safe, the Great Salt Lake’s managers want to ensure that can be done without further hurting the lake.

New rules coming for lithium extraction

Ben Stireman, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands deputy director, told KSL NewsRadio they are working to draft new rules for lithium extraction, as they were tasked to do under two new laws passed in the 2023 and 2024 general legislative sessions.

While those proposed rules still have a ways to go before they’re implemented, Stireman said, “Our number one priority is the health of the lake. We would not allow any technology to exist on the lake that would impair the lake,” he said.

Stireman also said the division will require every company wanting to extract lithium from the Great Salt Lake to conduct a feasibility assessment and prove that they can do it without harming the lake.

This includes companies wanting to use the new technology to take water into one pipe, extract the lithium and send the water back into the lake.

“I have a fair level of confidence that we will do it one day, but we’re not going to do it unless it’s the right way,” Stireman said.

“We are yet to see how these perspective operators would do this without evaporative means, but I know that they’re committed to working with us , and they want to do it the right way,” Stireman said. “I’m confident they’ll continue to improve and find a way to do that.”

Today, Stireman said U.S. Magnesium has an agreement to extract lithium through their evaporation ponds. But when the new rules for lithium extraction take effect, the company would also become subject to them.

Other companies, he said, have been waiting for the new rules to take effect before they move forward with any plans to extract lithium.

What happens next

Stireman said they will likely have their proposed rules for lithium extraction on the lake ready for public comment in about six weeks.

They will then go before the Utah Division of Administrative Rules for review and further public process.

Related: Great Salt Lake level reaches seven-year high

Read more news about the Great Salt Lake from KSL NewsRadio.

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A trove of lithium in Great Salt Lake is turning heads. Managers drafting rules to protect the water