What could have happened: Red Butte Canyon oil spill stops short of Great Salt Lake

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While extensive oil removal efforts are taking place in response to the oil spill in Red Butte Canyon caused by Chevron, a primary concern is that the spill may leak into the Great Salt Lake and damage the surrounding ecosystem.

Due to recently taken precautionary efforts,  this possibility seems relatively low. According to tests conducted by the Utah Division of Water Quality, there is no immediate threat to human or aquatic life. However, had the response to this disaster been leisurely enough for oil to enter the Great Salt Lake, the outcome could have been much worse.

Farmington Bay, the region where the Jordan River meets the Great Salt Lake, is the second largest freshwater portion of the lake. In this area live algae and various invertebrates and over 7 million of birds visit for either food during migration or breeding. An oil spill could devastate the existing food chain and alter major bird reproduction and migratory patterns.

If the oil is ingested by smaller organisms and moves upwards through the food chain, its chemicals become more concentrated until they pass a threshold, according to avian biologist John Neill at the Great Salt Lake Ecosystems Program.  “It initially affects reproduction and development.”

The loss of food found in brine srhimp and other invertebrates for birds could also send migratory paths into confusion. The Great Salt Lake acts as an oasis for birds moving through the western United States. If the food is not there for their migratory stop, the birds might not make it to their destinations at all. Neill said the wildlife areas are extremely important to the continued survival of bird species.

So far Chevron and a multitude of Utah state government agencies have worked to protect as many of the ecosystems as possible, therefore wildlife should be relatively fine.

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