FRIENDS' Comments on the Location of Promontory Point Resources' Monitoring Wells

14 February 2018 Published in News & Events

February 14, 2018

Scott T. Anderson

Director Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control

P.O. Box 144880

Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4880 submitted via email only Re: Public Comment on Promontory Point Landfill Modification

Dear Director Anderson,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed modification to the Promontory Point Resources, LLC Landfill monitoring wells. We make these comments on behalf of FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake and Sierra Club, which are greatly concerned about the level of subjectivity in the location of the monitoring wells, and respectfully requests that the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control withhold any permit modification or approval until it is determined whether the placement of the wells would allow the wells to perform their intended function of detecting the release of contaminants.

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake (FRIENDS) is a non-profit organization that has, as its mission, the preservation and protection of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem as well as Great Salt Lake’s watershed, and the organization seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of the Lake through education, research, advocacy, and the arts. The organization has long been involved in the protection and restoration of Great Salt Lake, its ecosystems and its watershed, advocating for ways in which the public may enjoy these resources by fishing, bird-watching, boating, photographing, hiking and studying these natural areas. On behalf of its members, FRIENDS frequently participates in agency processes that affect Great Salt Lake. FRIENDS considers this participation to be critical to its mission and to be valuable as a means of influencing the administration of lands that will lead to the protection and preservation of the Greater Great Salt Lake watershed.

As America’s largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club has more than 3.5 million members and supporters nationwide and more than 5,600 members living in Utah. In addition to helping people of all backgrounds have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to preserve and restore our remaining wild places, to promote the responsible use of the Earth’s resources and ecosystems, and to safeguard the 2 health of communities through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.

Promontory Point Resources, LLC seeks to modify its existing Class I Permit for the Promontory Point Resources, LLC Landfill after constructing the landfill over the top of at least two of the originally-approved monitoring well sites. The Public Notice Provided purports that the well locations will meet the 500 foot requirements of Utah Code Ann. R315-308-2(2), but there is no agency analysis to show that conclusion to be accurate. Before approving the new monitoring well locations, the Division should independently determine whether the wells are no further than 500 feet from the boundary of the landfill. Further, Utah Code Ann. R315-308-2(2) requires that the placement of groundwater monitoring wells be at "appropriate locations to yield samples from the uppermost aquifer and all hydraulically connect aquifers” and that the downgradient wells are installed at the "closest practicable distance hydraulically down gradient from the unit boundary not to exceed 150 meters (500 feet)”. There is no analysis or evidence to establish that these additional requirements of Utah Code Ann. R315-308-2(2) have been met.

Utah Code Ann R315-308-2 requires a complete and comprehensive groundwater monitoring program, not merely monitoring wells. The Class I permit currently includes such a groundwater monitoring program based on the locations of the previouslyapproved groundwater monitoring well sites. There needs to be review and analysis of the current groundwater monitoring program to determine whether that program needs to be revised based on the fact that the monitoring wells require relocation. Such analysis should be performed before any relocation of monitoring wells is approved.

Additionally, even if the proposed well locations meet the minimum distance requirements of Utah Code Ann. R315-308-2(2), due to the subsurface geology of the area around the proposed landfill the proposed wells may not actually perform their intended function – to detect the release of contaminants. Recall that Utah Code Ann. R315-308-2(2) requires that the placement of groundwater monitoring wells be at "appropriate locations to yield samples from the uppermost aquifer and all hydraulically connect aquifers” and that the downgradient wells are installed at the "closest practicable distance hydraulically down gradient from the unit boundary not to exceed 150 meters (500 feet)”. There is a great amount of subjectivity in where the wells should be placed, and their locations should be selected only after careful review and consideration of the site in order to ensure compliance with Utah Code Ann. R315-3082(2). The fact that some of the originally –approved wells were constructed over further demonstrates the need to carefully consider the subjective location of these monitoring wells. Accordingly, 3 before issuing a final permit, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control should require additional study and review of the proposed sites for the monitoring wells, to be undertaken and paid for by the Promontory Point Resources, LLC; to determine whether the proposed wells will function as intended.

The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council (GSLAC), in correspondence dated January 10, 2018, and previously submitted to the Division (Exhibit A, attached); Compass Minerals, in correspondence dated December 15, 2017 and previously submitted to the Division (Exhibit B, attached); and Dr. Bonnie Baxter, Director Great Salt Lake Institute, Westminster College in correspondence dated January 31, 2018 and previously submitted to the Division (Exhibit C, attached), emphasize the need for better hydro-geologic data pertaining to the landfill and in order to protect groundwater from contamination. All three letters are included with these comments.

Dr. Baxter’s letter, (See, Exhibit C) identifies hydrogeological concerns and the lack of data on page two, stating specifically:

● Lack of information on groundwater connection between landfill and lake: The landfill site is in close proximity to the waters of Great Salt Lake, and the groundwater connections from the site to the lake have not been well-researched to my knowledge. This is critical; there is potential of groundwater flow from upland areas on Promontory Point to documented, proximal lakebed spring systems into this unique and significant ecosystem. This would be a potential preferential pathway for leachate should it escape undetected into groundwater or fracture sets in bedrock beneath the proposed landfill. I also have concerns about the lack of groundwater quality data and the placement of monitoring wells. Will the monitoring wells monitor both alluvium bedrock groundwater? A deeper understanding is necessary in the area of the landfill in order to protect against potential landfill leachate.

● Microbialite density suggests groundwater connection between landfill and lake: Microbialites (e.g. stromatolites, “bioherms,” “biostromes”) are structures precipitated on the lake floor by microorganisms that photosynthesize and power the lake’s ecosystem by producing energy and turning over nutrients (e.g. Lindsay, M. R., et al. "Microbialite response to an anthropogenic salinity gradient in Great Salt Lake, Utah." Geobiology 15.1 (2017): 131-145). These are feeding stations for brine fly pupae, which are eaten by diving birds (e.g. ducks, phalaropes). For these reasons and others, microbialites are a key focal point of understanding the lake ecology.

Current models of microbialite formation, in sites around the world, suggest that they form where groundwater seeps occur as the groundwater would be necessary to bring calcium and form the calcium carbonate material. The microbialite structures in Great 4 Salt Lake are the densest on the shallow shelfs bounded by faults as the water depth changes. This suggests that the major faults under Great Salt Lake, to the west of the landfill site, may be seeping groundwater. As these faults are fairly close to the western shore of Promontory Point (~4,000 meters), it is possible that groundwater that recharges on the upland Promontory Point discharges, at least partially, via these faults.

The Great Salt Lake Alliance Council listed the following concerns in its correspondence, (See, Exhibit A):

• Sufficiency of existing studies to determine the scope and potential migration of leachate generated by stored waste at the facility; specifically for long term storage and degradation of liners over time and the potential environmental consequences of leaks to Great Salt Lake;

• The adequacy of plans and infrastructure designed to collect leachate from waste and ensure that it does not contaminate groundwater, endanger wildlife, or enter the lake; both now and into the future. • Given the density difference of leachate and GSL water, there are concerns that leachate would ‘float to the top’, thus creating a toxic surface lens;

• The potential for containment failure, particularly as it relates to earthquakes, subsidence, seiche waves, and liner degradation over time;

• Design standard adequacy in this environment to handle runoff equal to or greater than a 100-year rain event;

• Sufficiency of plan design to address fractured bedrock beneath the site and movement of groundwater through it, which creates natural pathways for leachate and associated toxins to contaminate groundwater and for that contamination to spread;

GSLAC then requested that the Division complete further studies (See, Exhibit C): “[T]o determine the full extent of the risks and the adequacy of the measures designed to address them. Those studies include a more extensive study of groundwater movement on Promontory and how this facility could affect ground and surface water resources, as well as the adequacy of the facility t 5 capture and process leachate; (ii) prevent the escape of fugitive waste and other debris; (iii) prevent fly ash or other toxic dust from entering the environment from the landfill or from transportation to the landfill; and (iv) withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, seiche waves which have occurred, and will likely occur again in this area, as well as degradation of the liners over time.”

Compass Minerals correspondence posed three questions related to groundwater and the potential for contamination, specifically relating to a potential pathway for contaminants from the landfill to the lake via the lakebed springs:

• Have groundwater fate and transport studies that have been conducted or will need to be conducted as part of the Promontory Landfill’s request integrated the presence of these springs within the near-shore lakebed into the project scope?

• Has the source area for the springs on the GSL lakebed been assessed to determine whether the recharge area for the springs is beneath or near the proposed Promontory landfill?

• If so, is there is a nexus between the recharge area and the springs that creates a preferential pathway from landfill leachate sources to the GSL lakebed in near proximity to the termination of Compass Minerals Behrens Trench on the southwest tip of Promontory Point?

The correspondence from Dr. Baxter, Compass Minerals, and GSLAC are representative of the importance of understanding the hydrogeology of the area in order to protect water quality and Great Salt Lake itself from pollution and other potential contaminants that may be discharged or leak from Promontory Point Resources, LLC’s Class I landfill located on Promontory Point.

Additionally, in any decision of the well locations herein, we respectfully request that the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control consult with the Division of Water Quality regarding Promontory Point Resources recent and repeated flooding of the County road on the Southwest boundary of the landfill, on or near the proposed relocation of the monitoring wells. It is unclear whether this relates to Promontory Point Resources’ storm water permit and pollution plan, but whether or not it is related, there exists real questions as to whether the storm water pollution plan and retention pond, and whether those will have any effect on the proposed location of the groundwater 6 monitoring wells. Attached you will please find two photographs of the flooding taken in January of 2018 by Young Brothers Livestock; Exhibit D.

There is also concern that the Needs Assessment Addendum for Promontory Point Resources, LLC’s Class V permit application is included with the groundwater monitoring wells relocation proposal. As the Class V permitting process is proceeding and the Needs Assessment is a portion of that application, it should not be considered as part of any Class I Permit Modification, and we respectfully request that the Division not consider the Needs Assessment Addendum for the Class V landfill application or any material contained therein when considering this requested modification for a Class I landfill permit. The Division has not reviewed or approved the Needs Assessment Addendum in conjunction with the Class I Permit Modification, and should make that clear as part of its decision whether to permit the proposed well relocations.

Due to the great subjectivity of the well placement, the flooding issues, and the complex subsurface geology of Promontory Point, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control should not approve this permit unless and until it can be determined the wells will in fact be located in the proper place to actually detect contaminants from the proposed landfill. Merely locating the wells within 500 feet of the waste boundary of the proposed landfill site is not enough to ensure that meaningful monitoring will actually occur. Due to the great subjectivity of the wells location within the 500 foot requirement, additional information is required.

Thank you kindly for your time and attention to this matter.

Very Truly Yours, 

Ariel C. Calmes, staff attorney Western Resource Advocates

Andrea Issod Senior Attorney Sierra Club Environmental Law

Click here to download .pdf with Exhibits


Why We Care

  • Several years ago I was enchanted by Alfred Lambourne’s romanticized paintings of the Great Salt Lake, so began my own quest to explore its islands and capture what I saw in quick, plein air, oil sketches.

    I made many day-trips to Black Rock and spent a significant amount of time camping on Stansbury and Antelope Islands, climbing their trails and swimming in their bays. My paintings became my diary as I observed the changing light and shadow on the rocks and water. The brine flies and gnats often hovered over my shoulder anxious to immortalize themselves in the sticky colorful oil paint.

    Kirk Henrichsen, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant