At Great Salt Lake, evaporative mineral extraction is a consumptive, expansive, and lucrative industry. Operating on state lands, the Lake’s mineral extraction companies are subject to regulation by multiple state agencies. They hold vast water rights and operate under a lease and royalty agreement with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (DFFSL).

HB513, sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider and passed at the end of the 2023 state legislative session, imposes new, stronger requirements for those regulations, and DFFSL and the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) are now drafting new rules to implement those requirements.

Read more about the implementation of HB513 in this article from KSL.com & Great Salt Lake Collaborative: 'They're supposed to put it all back': How new Utah rules aim to protect Great Salt Lake's water

FRIENDS has been actively engaging in the rulemaking process with DFFSL and DWQ, gathering scientific perspectives and providing input to ensure the agencies’ rules are rigorous enough in examining impacts to the Lake’s chemistry and biota.

We expect the final rules to be posted in the state bulletin and open for public comment in early 2024.

Waterleaf ResourcesWaterleaf Map

As state agencies work to define these rules, a new company has submitted an application for the non-consumptive use of 225,000 acre-feet of water annually to supply a proposed lithium operation in the Lake’s North Arm near Robert Smithson's earthwork, Spiral Jetty. Waterleaf Resources, a subsidiary of California-based Lilac Solutions, claims their proprietary technology is water-neutral. They plan to use acid to extract lithium from the Lake’s brine, neutralize the water with alkaline additives, and discharge the water back into the Lake. 

Read more about their proposed process in this article from the Salt Lake Tribune & Great Salt Lake Collaborative: New lithium company wants billions of gallons from Great Salt Lake, but says it will put it all back

There are many unanswered questions about the efficacy of this novel technology and its potential impact to the Lake's ecosystem.

Following the finalization of DFFSL and DWQ’s new rules, Waterleaf Resources intends to build a pilot plant on the Lake’s North Arm in 2024. This will be a critical test for the technology’s physical and economic viability and its impact on the Lake.

If successful, non-consumptive mineral extraction could shift the tide for this industry and the Lake. Evaporative mineral extraction is contributing to Great Salt Lake’s decline; current practices are unsustainable for the industry and the ecosystem. With or without lithium, all water users must adapt and conserve.

Our Work

Since 1994, FRIENDS has worked to protect the Lake’s ecosystem by engaging in administrative processes with state agencies, independently verifying scientific claims, and, when necessary, making legal challenges on behalf of the Lake.

With this charge, FRIENDS filed a protest of Waterleaf Resources’ 225,000 acre-ft water right application. 

We argue that this application is premature, and it should not be considered until a pilot plant, with its own royalty agreement in place, has demonstrated the technology’s viability and ecological safety.

The State Engineer’s office will make a decision on the water right application following a public hearing on 12/14.

Each of these agency reviews represent an opportunity for public oversight. FRIENDS participates in these administrative processes to ensure they are rigorous in examining impacts to the Lake.

Our General Counsel, Rob Dubuc, and Executive Director, Lynn de Freitas, lead these efforts, fueled by the support of our members. Together, we preserve and protect Great Salt Lake.

Read our protest here.