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When people think of the Great Salt Lake, they typically conjure up images of salt water and brine flies. Now, the lake might also have people thinking carrots.

Nutraceutical Corp. has been granted a 30-year lease by the state Division of Sovereign Lands to harvest algae from existing evaporative ponds. The algae, it turns out, has high concentrations of beta carotene, the same nutrient found in carrots."There are apparently enough people who think beta carotene is a vital nutrient that they pursue it in dietary supplements," said Karl Kappe, unit manager for Sovereign Lands. "And that has created a whole new industry for us."

Worldwide sales of beta carotene were about $200 million in 1990, with most of the product being produced synthetically. The Great Salt Lake project marks a major shift toward the production of natural beta carotene, which is expected to constitute 5 percent of the total by the year 2000.

Under terms of the agreement, Nutraceutical Corp., based in Ogden, will pay the state a royalty of 1.5 percent of gross sales with the royalty payments escalating to 5 percent over the next 25 years.

"This presents an exciting opportunity to develop one of Utah's untapped natural resources and increase the tax base," Kappe said, adding the project could result "in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue to the state."

An added benefit to the state is that beta carotene production will take place on existing evaporative ponds currently being used to produce salt. As the water evaporates and salt concentrations become highest, algae flourishes, giving the ponds a red and purple color. Using mechanical devices, the algae harvester will go in and collect the algae; the harvest in no way interferes with salt production.

"It is a stellar example of an integrated industrial complex on the Great Salt Lake," Kappe said. "And it is done with no additional impact to the lake environment."

The algae, known in scientific circles as Dunaliella algae, is the food source for the infamous brine flies that blanket the lake's beaches during certain times of the year. The harvest of brine flies, used as fish food, is currently an important industry on the lake.

Beta carotene is high in vitamin A.