ENVIRONMENT

Organizations awarded $8.5 million to help The Great Salt Lake wetlands

Nov 8, 2023, 12:58 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2023, 6:30 am

Brian Steed was named as the new Great Salt Lake commissioner by Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday, May 15...

Brian Steed was named as the new Great Salt Lake commissioner by Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday, May 15, 2023. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY— The Great Salt Lake’s wetland areas are getting a boost. $8.5 million has been awarded to various government and nonprofit groups from Salt Lake County to Box Elder County. 

The money is coming from The Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust. It was established through a bill passed during the 2022 Utah General Legislative Session.

Joel Ferry, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources said $40 million went into the trust. $10 million was set aside for wetland enhancements.

“You have some of the most productive wetlands in the United States right here on Great Salt Lake,” Ferry told KSL Newsradio. “Where the fresh and saltwater meet, you create…an explosion of life.”

The wetlands stretch from the southern shores in Salt Lake City to the lake’s northeastern end around Bear River Bay. They’re the stomping grounds for some of the millions of migratory birds that fly in from all over the Western Hemisphere. And according to Ferry, the wetlands also help the lake’s water quality.

Who’s getting the money?

The grants, totaling just above $8.5 million, will go towards eight projects. They will be spearheaded by The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the nonprofit group Ducks Unlimited, and the Nature Conservancy group.

The projects each have unique plans to help the wetlands. In some cases, they will help revamp outdated water infrastructure.

“We have dikes and canals, culverts and spillways that are dilapidated … they haven’t been improved in decades,” Ferry said.

Multiple projects are planned around Farmington Bay, one of the driest parts of The Great Salt Lake in recent years. It’s also where the Jordan River spills into the lake. Ferry said that the channel has been particularly challenging.

“We have impediments on the Jordan River whether it be a culvert, or a bridge, or a dam… where we have a hard time getting some water through,” Ferry said. “If we can help improve some of those…it actually lets us move more water through, and ultimately get more water to the lake.”

Ferry said it’ll take a couple of years for these groups to complete their projects, however, they will each play a role in saving the lake. 

The latest state of The Great Salt Lake

Now that temperatures have dropped and winter is on the horizon, the lake is likely done losing water to evaporation for the year. This year was especially kind to The Great Salt Lake.

The lake hit an all-time record low of 4,188.5 feet above sea level in late 2022. Last winter’s record snowpack and the spring runoff that followed brought water levels up 5.5 feet. That was almost triple the amount the lake usually rises.

Ferry said since that boost, the lake lost 1.9 feet to evaporation. That is also less than what the lake typically loses in a given summer. At the time of publication, levels sit at 4,192.1 feet above sea level.

Ferry said the lake’s ‘healthy’ levels range between 4,196 and 4,200 feet above sea level. It could take some time to get back there, however. The lake just returned to levels seen in 2020 and 2021.

“This is a long-term game that we’re playing,” Ferry said. “It’s taken us four years to get where we are today, it’s going to take us some time to get back out of it.”

In addition to Mother Nature, Ferry said Utahns who have been conserving water have helped the lake levels. Every person who conserves is making a difference in this years-long effort to preserve the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere.

Compared to where we stood just one year ago, Ferry said he’s optimistic about the future.

“Give us some time … and together we’ll get through this,” Ferry said.

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Organizations awarded $8.5 million to help The Great Salt Lake wetlands