Inland Sea

I have lived within a 15-minute drive of the Great Salt Lake for most of my life. To many, the lake is stinky, wasteland full of insects and mud. To some, it’s a source of income through mineral extraction, out of sight and out of mind from laws and regulations. To the Nɨwɨ (Goshute) people, this is an ancestral home. To me, it is an ecological wonder, the likes of which are only found in a few places around the globe. The Inland Sea has long been a source of inspiration for writers and artists, like Alfred Lambourne who lived in solitude on the Sea’s Gunnison island for a year in 1895-1896.

Alfred Lambourne’s “Our Inland Sea” details what it was like to live alone on the Great Salt Lake for nearly a year in 1895-96
Sailboats passing in the central portion of the Inland Sea

Hundreds of thousands of pioneers moved west to conquer and colonize the Great Basin. Within a few decades, they had found that the Inland Sea had financial potential through mineral extraction.

The discovery of mineral riches in the Inland Sea’s salt composition
Salt piles measuring 3 stories tall
A successful exploration of the Inland Sea’s Potassium and Magnesium potential by the University of Utah

The Inland Sea would become diked off into hundreds of smaller ponds to moderate the salinity and content of other minerals. In this way, the extraction companies could pump water in and out of their leased compartments of the lake, using evaporation ponds to remove the minerals they wanted before returning the brine water back to the main body of water.

A division in the lake to concentrate minerals for extraction
Lake Committee report of 1973. The first report to consider all ecological and economical factors for lake management

Very little research was done on the effects these companies had on the Inland Sea and its inhabitants. With financial gains as the main driver, the extraction companies would divide and conquer the Inland Sea into several tiny, manageable seas. The extraction of Magnesium in particular would become a huge asset to the local economy, providing thousands of high-paying jobs. It would also become the worst source of air pollution in the country, in the form of dioxins, a powerful neurotoxin.

US Magnesium (Formerly MagCorp), Utah’s biggest air polluter rests on the edge of the Inland Sea

It wasn’t until the 1970’s when several small groups of locals would begin to recognize the effects on the health of the people and environment around these extraction facilities. A study by the University of Utah in the 1990’s would show that Tooele County had 7 times the national average of Multiple Sclerosis deaths, one of which would be my biological Grandmother. Though correlative evidence has linked this health crisis to the high concentration of dioxins from Magnesium extraction, along with the chemical and nuclear weapons being tested in the bombing ranges west of the lake, no officially recognized causation or legal repercussions have been solidified.

Chip Ward’s “Canaries on the Rim” describing the effect of US Magnesium (Formerly MagCorp)
A self portrait in one of MagCorp’s old busses, left to decay on the edge of the Inland Sea

In the creation of this series, I hope to inspire action by bringing awareness to the imperfect status quo. I can’t begin to give enough thanks to Alfred Lambourne, Chip Ward, and the many other individuals who have made done their part to keep the lake great. We still have a lot of work to do if we want to keep our community and ecosystem healthy.

In a gallery setting, this series takes the shape in ten 13×19 inkjet prints. Over coming years it will continue to be expanded and exhibited to bring awareness and inspire action.

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