May 28, 2009

U.S., Utah in dispute over Great Salt Lake

The U.S. government says a Utah law setting permissible selenium levels in the Great Salt Lake is illegal because it violates a treaty on migratory birds.

The Utah standard of up to 12.5 parts per million in mallard eggs would kill about 10 percent of the birds before they hatch, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday. The current level in the lake is about 2.7 parts per million.

Between 9 million and 12 million migrants visit the lake wetlands every year to winter, nest or rest for a few days. Many of those birds spend parts of their lives in other countries.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a May 18 letter to Utah officials, said the 10 percent mortality is a taking of birds, violating the Migratory Bird Treaty.

The decision is in the hands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must decide on an appropriate selenium standard, the newspaper said.