SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) –The Great Salt Lake is in danger, and Sen. Nate Blouin (D-Salt Lake) and Rep. Joel Briscoe (D-Salt Lake) unveiled bills Wednesday, Jan. 25 with their plans to save it.
Sen. Blouin’s bill would set an official state goal to protect the Great Salt Lake by making the official policy of Utah to raise lake water levels to 4,198 feet in elevation. It is currently sitting at 4,189 feet, nine feet below what is considered the minimum healthy water level.
“Having a meaningful goal to strive for as we implement the strong work of the legislature” Blouin said, “is critical in our effort to save the Great Salt Lake.”
Blouin’s resolution stated reasons to save the Great Salt Lake, including that it is a nesting and feeding habitat for over 10 million migratory birds, home to one of the largest populations of microbialites in the world, and a large support to the economy of Utah. His resolution also stated that low levels of the Great Salt Lake have exposed heavy metals which are negatively affecting the air quality in the Wasatch Front.
Blouin’s bill would implement policies, incentives, and funding sources to bring the Great Salt Lake water levels back to the minimum healthy water level in an effort to minimize damage and preserve the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.
Briscoe introduced a bill that would help fund the restoration of the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake Funding Modifications bill, H.B. 286, would redirect almost $60 million from existing annual sales tax collections in Utah to a fund to restore the Great Salt Lake.
“We dismissed the Great Salt Lake,” Briscoe said. “We ignored it. We failed to appreciate it for too long.”
Right now, nearly $60 million is being funneled into a construction fund for Bear River Development and Lake Powell. This fund, the Water Infrastructure Restricted Account, or WIRA, has amassed $179 million, which has been untouched since the creation of the account in 2015 by the Utah Legislature.
“Most Utahns don’t know their tax dollars are being used to advance Bear River Development, which is a nail in the coffin for the Great Salt Lake,” Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said.
The proposed Bear River Development is a proposal to divert the largest water source into the Great Salt Lake. According to HB 286, funding for the Bear River Development would stop in 2023, and restart in 2028 when the Great Salt Lake funding has stopped.
However, Utah Rivers Council said in a press release that proponents of the Bear River Development fund say the project to save the Great Salt Lake will not be necessary until 2050. URC. said if this were the case, the sales tax dollars of WIRA may continue to be unutilized while the Great Salt Lake continues to dry out.
“What Utah and the Lake both need right now is a measurable goal,” Frankel said, “so that we can get serious about directing funding, establishing water conservation policies, and empowering Utahns to save this crown jewel of Utah.”