Utah

2 Utah Dems want to divert more water and money into the Great Salt Lake

Two Democratic lawmakers are proposing ideas focused on bringing water to the dry Great Salt Lake. So far, their policies are the only ones presented in this session that focus squarely on saving the iconic landmark.

The Great Salt Lake is in critical condition, Gov. Spencer Cox said Your rescue is our top priority. A Brigham Young University to learn found that unless aggressive measures are taken to bring water into the lake, this could be the case disappear in five years. It has also seen record low water levels and ecological collapse of one of the most diverse ecosystems has already started.

The first idea is a resolution supported by Sen. Nate Blouin to set a recovery target for lake water levels. Proponents are ambitious to raise it by about 9 feet, which they say is the minimum level to maintain a healthy lake Department of Natural Resources.

During an unveiling of the legislation on Wednesday, Blouin said the state had put in place a framework to bring water to the lake – but politics is “only acting on guesswork at this point” when it comes to where the lake needs to be.

“We don’t have a benchmark to measure how we’re doing where we need to be,” he said. “So it’s time we set a goal to work towards and celebrate when we get there.”

The bill does not include a deadline for when the state must achieve the goal. When asked, Blouin said the schedule was “unofficially as soon as possible”.

The second idea is sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe. For the next five years HB286 new money from a construction fund would be earmarked for the diversion Lake Powell Pipeline and the Development of the Bear Riveralso known as Water Infrastructure Restricted Accountto revitalize Great Salt Lake.

Both are projects that would divert water to southern and northern Utah to meet the growing population and water needs.

“Given our drought and low water levels, it seems to me that Great Salt Lake is where the money should be going now,” he said.

The existing money in the account would not be touched according to his legislation. Briscoe said political leaders noted that the above projects are “so far in the future” that the funds raised should be used to prevent the “imminent collapse of the Great Salt Lake right before our eyes.”

2023 Utah Legislative Session, Joel Briscoe and Nate Blouin announce Great Salt Lake bills, January 25, 2023
Democratic Rep. Joel Briscoe, speaking at the rostrum, Utah Rivers Council executive director Zach Frankel, and Senator Nate Blouin announce two bills to restore the Great Salt Lake on Jan. 25, 2023.

the Utah Rivers Council said the fund would raise about $300 million in sales tax revenue over five years for advocacy groups to do things like buy water rights to the lake. That number could fluctuate, Briscoe said, based on the economy and how much money is accumulated through sales taxes.

The bill does not dictate how the money will be used to save Great Salt Lake. but Zach Frankelthe executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said, “It is very clear that the purpose of this fund is to maintain the water levels.”

Last yearthe legislature created $40 million Great Salt Lake Trustwho could buy water rights for the lake. The legislature also passed an amendment to the law of Utah This made it legal for sovereign countries like the lake to own water rights and allowed water rights holders to lease or relinquish their rights to the lake. Another change states that water left in the lake is now considered a “beneficial use” of the resource.

Blouin and Briscoe’s proposed policy has the support of water conservation groups such as the Utah Rivers Council and FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake. Both will need Republican support if they are to make the governor’s desk. For now, Blouin said they’ve just started speaking to their fellow GOPs.

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