Lawmakers’ 2023 efforts to address water, drought and Great Salt Lake

Mar 7, 2023, 6:00 PM

Utah lawmakers and elected officials recently took a trip to Isreal to see how the country effectiv...

The Antelope Island marina is dried up as the Great Salt Lake experiences record low water levels on Friday, July 22, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is enjoying a bountiful snowpack this season. But the long-term severe drought in the Western U.S. persists. And even though the Great Salt Lake has risen a foot since its historic low in November, a Utah water expert says multiple good water years will be needed to help the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.

Salt Lake City Public Utilities Director Laura Briefer joins Dave & Dujanovic to talk about the legislation passed during the 2023 session addressing conservation of water statewide and preservation of the Great Salt Lake and what the expectations for water restrictions may look like in spring and summer.

Let’s talk about water bills

“There’s just a general theme [during the past session] of building upon what happened last year and the year before that. We had quite a few bills regarding water efficient-landscaping [see below] to encourage more conservation statewide but also in the Great Salt Lake Basin as well,” Briefer said.

 Senate Bill 118 Water Efficient Landscaping Incentives.

She also mentioned House Bill 450 , which addresses landscaping requirements of Utah homeowners associations.

“People have gotten frustrated that they couldn’t do water-efficient landscaping pursuant to those bylaws [specific to homeowners associations],” she said.

Briefer also mentioned House Bill 307, which creates a partnership called Water Ways, a new nonprofit, statewide partnership addressing optimizing the use of water. It appropriates a one-time allotment of $2 million. And an ongoing appropriation of $1 million to the Department of Natural Resources — Water Resources.

Additionally, Briefer mentioned H.B. 491 Amendments Related to the Great Salt Lake, which creates a commissioner to oversee all state agencies’ work to save the lake.

“This new agency is trying to help direct [12 Utah agencies working on lake needs] to the same end goal. . . This brings the oversight and management under one umbrella,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Shultz, R-Hooper, who sponsored HB491.

Bill to create Great Salt Lake commissioner moves forward, non-profit calls it ‘shadowy’

Briefer said some are calling the proposed commissioner “The Lorax of the Lake.”

 “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you to take on the role of comedian — that’s awesome,” Debbie said, laughing.

For conserving water, carrot works better than stick

“Does it look like there’ll be sweeping restrictions at all from Capitol Hill in terms of water use this summer? And if not from Capitol Hill, how about from Salt Lake City?” Debbie asked.

“From a municipal standpoint, it doesn’t appear that there will be sweeping restrictions on water use. There will be more incentive programs available to residents for landscape efficiency or different types of drought-tolerant planting on their landscapes,” Briefer said. 

She said Salt Lake City may see some improvement in the West’s longstanding drought in light of the abundant snowpack this season.

“With respect to Salt Lake City, as you probably know, we’re in Stage Two of our water-shortage contingency plan — that’s where we entered the water year in October. We’re monitoring conditions with respect to our great snowpack right now to see if that stage will be lifted to perhaps Stage One,” Briefer said.

More snow is good for Great Salt Lake:

State snowpack is high, and will continue to grow in coming weeks


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Lawmakers’ 2023 efforts to address water, drought and Great Salt Lake