UTAH DROUGHT

$40M Great Salt Lake trust beginning work with newly formed council

Feb 1, 2023, 7:47 AM | Updated: Mar 10, 2023, 6:07 am

Watershed Enhancement Trust, which aims to get water back to the lake. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret ...

Watershed Enhancement Trust, which aims to get water back to the lake. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

This article is published through The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations that aims to inform readers about the Great Salt Lake.

SALT LAKE CITY — Farmers, private landowners, mineral extraction specialists, hunters, anglers and water managers are among a group of people joining a trust to work on improving water flows to the Great Salt Lake, state land managers said Tuesday.

The measure is considered one of the last steps needed to move forward with projects that get water to the drying lake, according to the Utah Division of Division Forestry, Fire and State Lands. The division named nine members to a new state advisory council for the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust, all of whom have different backgrounds that could be impacted by the drying lake.

The council will assist the trust as it looks for solutions to improve lake water levels.

  • Cooper Farr, director of conservation at Tracy Aviary
  • Spencer Gibbons, chief executive officer at the Utah Farm Bureau
  • Joe Havasi, vice president of natural resources for Compass Minerals
  • Tim Hawkes, vice president and general counsel for Great Salt Lake Artemia
  • Darren Hess, assistant general manager at the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District
  • Jill Jones, general manager at Central Davis Sewer District
  • Jordan Nielson, Utah water and land habitat director at Trout Unlimited
  • Jack Ray, a shareholder of the Rudy Duck Club, South Shore of Great Salt Lake
  • Thomas Wright, a member of Ducks Unlimited

Utah lawmakers formed the trust through a bill that designated $40 million for the cause last year. Then, in June 2022, state leaders picked the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy to oversee the program, which seeks to secure the rights from farmers, or anyone else, for water that could otherwise flow into the Great Salt Lake.

The lake reached an all-time low for the second straight year just weeks after the trust was announced.

However, the two organizations had to wait for the advisory council to be formed before moving forward with projects that could help the Great Salt Lake. The bill stated that the council must include a “range of stakeholders,” which the newly formed council now has.

“I can’t see a sustainable future for Great Salt Lake without a trust dedicated to its water supply,” Hawkes, who was selected as an aquaculture specialist, said in a prepared statement. “I’m grateful for the Utah Legislature, National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and so many others who’ve worked hard to get the trust up and running.”

With the final piece now in place, Utah Division of Division Forestry, Fire and State Lands officials said Tuesday that the trust will begin to “engage in water transactions and projects” to improve Great Salt Lake water levels.

The development comes as the lake has already benefited from recent storms, rising by 1 foot with storms over the past several weeks. But the lake still remains about 9 feet below the “minimum healthy levels,” Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, said last week. Blouin said that figure is based on Utah Department of Natural Resources research.

The lake is also expected to recede again once the irrigation season is in full swing this summer.

Marcelle Shoop, director of the Saline Lakes Program for the National Audubon Society, said all the efforts to preserve the lake’s wetlands are “imperative.”

Elizabeth Kitchens, the acting Utah state director for the Nature Conservancy, agrees, saying the two co-leaders look forward to working with the newly formed council to help get water back to the lake.

“The trust represents an important step toward increased collaboration around the health of the lake,” she said, in a statement. “Its success depends on engagement from the many interested parties who care about the lake and the benefits it provides for nature and the people of Utah.”

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$40M Great Salt Lake trust beginning work with newly formed council