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The heroic beavers are currently recovering at a local wildlife rehabilitation center. (Yva Momatiuk & John Eastcott / Minden Pictures)

How Beavers Came to
Salt Lake City’s Rescue

A dam built by beavers stopped an oil spill from reaching the city’s water supply

By Jennifer Marino Walters | March 29 , 2013

A March 18 diesel-fuel spill in Utah could have contaminated Salt Lake City’s water supply if it hadn’t been for some heroic beavers. Officials are crediting a beaver dam with helping contain the spill in Willard Bay State Park.

Up to 27,500 gallons of fuel spilled from a leaky pipeline in the park. About 14,000 gallons have been recovered so far. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has led an emergency-response team, hopes to remove as much oil from the surrounding wetlands as possible before the bird-migration season goes into full swing over the next couple of weeks.

“[The] EPA is working with the state to make sure the leak is cleaned up entirely,” Curtis Kimbel, the EPA’s on-site coordinator, told reporters. “It appears we do have the resources to properly clean this up.”

Chevron, the gas company that owns the pipeline, is not yet certain what caused the leak in the 60-year-old pipeline, which has been shut down. Investigators say the fuel leaked from a 74-inch-long split in the seam of the pipe. The federal government has barred the company from restarting the pipeline until further tests are done on it.

RECOVERING FROM THE SPILL

Six beavers that had been soaked in the fuel are recovering at a local wildlife rehabilitation center. So far there have been no other reports of injuries to wildlife. People seem to be safe too. Although tiny amounts of chemicals from the spill are beginning to show up in water tests, officials believe the chemicals are not cause for serious concern.

“We don’t have an immediate human-health or ecological issue at this point,” John Whitehead, assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, told reporters.

Salt Lake City residents can thank the beavers for that. Workers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah have been cleaning the fuel from the beavers’ fur with dishwashing liquid. They are also feeding the animals salad, carrots, yams, and apples.

This was not the first fuel leak in the region. In 2010, the company had two oil pipeline leaks along Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City. About 300 birds were coated in oil, and fewer than 10 died.

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