UTAH DROUGHT

At water summit, a warning about the shrinking Great Salt Lake

Apr 26, 2022, 8:03 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2022, 7:32 am
shrinking great salt lake...
FILE: The Great Salt Lake as seen on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The third week of the Salt Lake County Water Summit focused on the shrinking Great Salt Lake, and the possibility that it may drop another two feet this year to an all-time low.

The falling lake level poses a health threat by exposing dust that is laden with heavy metals. And along with the health threat, Great Salt Lake Coodinator for the Department of Natural Resources, Laura Vernon, said mitigation efforts and lost recreation revenue could cost the state billions of dollars.

“And I think that’s really relevant,” said Vernon, “to cities and counties along the Wasatch Front and those who are hoping to ski more.

The better news, Vernon said, is that the state can make a difference if people work collectively.

“Conserve, right? That’s the most obvious thing that people think about when they think about getting water to the Great Salt Lake.

Besides conserving, however, Vernon said it’s important to think about water-wise planning and development when considering the shrinking Great Salt Lake.

And she said that new laws on the books will also help. These include governing secondary water metering and incentives for using less grass. 

The Utah Legislature passed and Gov. Cox signed dozens of water-related bills generated during the 2022 Utah Legislative Session. 

The Deseret News reports that HB33 is one of the most beneficial of the new laws.  It designates the bed of the Great Salt Lake as a beneficial use for water rights. It means that farmers and others who hold water rights can lease those rights to the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands.

Another bill signed into law, HB242, provides millions of dollars in grants that will fast-track the metering of secondary water. The Deseret News reports that that bill’s sponsor, Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, believes that the water savings generated by HB242 would equal 80,000 acre-feet of water.

Simone Seikaly contributed to this report.

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