Salt Lake City, Utah- (ABC4 News) – Advocates and lawmakers are sounding the alarm over the Great Salt Lake, warning the consequences of the record low levels are far-reaching.
A bird’s-eye view helps put the dire situation into perspective.
The Great Salt Lake is shrinking, and fast.
“The Great Salt Lake is in a serious crisis, and there are no signs that it will abate anytime soon,” said Zach Frankel with the Utah Rivers Council.
The kind of crisis we haven’t seen in our lifetime.
“It’s been shocking to see that it’s 11 feet lower, 11 feet lower, than when Brigham Young and the pioneers rolled into the valley,” said Speaker Brad Wilson, (R) Kaysville.
It’s also shocking to consider the impact it’s having.
An impact that goes beyond a shortage of water.
“It affects our climate, we have less lake effect snow, it makes our climate a little bit warmer, plus we also end up getting these toxic materials that you get with terminal lakes kicked up into the atmosphere that affect our air quality,” said Wilson.
Wilson says that’s why lawmakers made the lake a priority during this year’s legislative session.
“Collectively we invested more resources, and more efforts into conservation and water this session than we have in the state’s history.”
In an unusual, but not unheard of move, the speaker sponsored HB410 himself.
The bill provides $40 million to create the Watershed Enhancement Program run by local nonprofits.
“They will be charged with going out and finding monies that they can draw down from the federal government and private sources to go and find additional sources of water, to do mitigation efforts to clean the water that’s coming in,” Wilson said.
He believes this effort will make a meaningful difference.
Local advocates are happy with the step, but say it’s long overdue.
“It’s great that they put $40 million, finally after a quarter-century, into our streams, rivers and lakes in Utah. But, we are literally decades behind our sister western states in the U.S. that have invested hundreds of millions,” said Frankel.
He was pushing for a bill that was abandoned that he says would have hit the biggest water users with higher fees.
“Our inexpensive, or cheap water rates along Utah’s Wasatch Front is leading to vast overconsumption of water for the contributaries the Great Salt Lake needs to survive.”
Frankel says Speaker Wilson’s bill is just a baby step.
“Legislators refused to pass bills that would have really took leaps forward. Substantive bills that were sponsored by good legislators were sidelined or gutted in the favor of protecting the water lobby’s interest,” he said.
The speaker disputes that. He says the crisis wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight.
“There are always people that are detractors, that’s it’s never good enough for them, but we’re going to keep working at it, and we’re not done. It was a first step, but I would not say it’s a baby step,” Wilson said.